ARSIS F.C.: Integration through football for vulnerable refugee populations in Thessaloniki, Greece
ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth is a Greek NGO operating in the field of child and youth protection. ARSIS was founded in 1992 and aims to protect children at risk, as well as assist the re-integration of vulnerable groups such as the homeless, ex-prisoners, the unemployed etc. The protection of socially disadvantaged groups threatened with social exclusion and marginalization lies at the core of the organization’s aims, while advocating for their rights.
ARSIS supports minors experiencing life conditions that may hinder, prevent, suspend, obstruct their smooth personal development and access to social goods and conditions, e.g. inadequate support from their families, neglect, abuse, exploitation, rejection by the education system, immigration, refugee status, homelessness, unemployment, conflicts with the law, institutionalization or imprisonment, etc. Committed to the idea of a holistic approach and methodology, ARSIS also takes into account and includes the support of the family environment of minors.
ARSIS currently operates a number of facilities, such as Youth Support Centres (YSCs), Social Services, Accommodation units, Psycho-social support units, and others, benefiting children, young people and vulnerable individuals in Thessaloniki.
ARSIS’ Youth Support Centre (YSC) and its holistic approach, provides beneficiaries of the aforementioned project with services, language courses and networking opportunities, in addition to social cohesion, as well as aids their family member towards successful integration in Greece, with ARSIS F.C. being an additional way of engagement in our toolbox.
The project has had, and continues to have multiple positive results on the participants, as well as their communities. Members of the club strengthen their physical and mental attributes, develop soft skills, and increase their sociability and self-esteem. Their participation in the team has been proven to enhance their engagement to YSC and the local community, providing them with more opportunities in physical exercise, services, language courses and networking opportunities. As the football club is a pole of attraction for its members’ social environment, communities interact with each other and beneficiaries integrate and become active citizens of the community.
Τhe football club of ARSIS, “ARSIS F.C.”, was founded in March 2018 in Thessaloniki, Greece. The idea of a football team was born many months prior its establishment, in response to the difficulties and need of youth refugees to participate in sport activities within their new country and play organised football under the umbrella of a team, that will help them strengthen their identity, self-esteem, sociability and community feeling.
Our footballers are young people aged 15 to 27 who are refugees, asylum seekers or unaccompanied minors from countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, New Guinea, Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Somalia, , and others. As they belong to socially disadvantaged groups constantly facing marginalization and discrimination, the majority of them do not have the opportunity to join grassroots football. Our team provides football fields, coaches and training materials, as well as the opportunity to participate in football tournaments against local clubs. Two training sessions and a football match take place each week.
Despite the constant alterations of the participants of the team, due to the nature of the migration situation, which is characterized by people on the move, the number of unique members increased rapidly over the years, with 35 to 45 people participating in each training session. However, as the team is no stranger to social obstacles, we currently face the legislative challenge of refugee people participating in amateur leagues. Luckily, ARSIS’ advocacy actions led to the Macedonia Football Clubs Association’s decision to include ARSIS F.C. within its framework, by letting the team play weekly friendly football matches under its auspices.
The concept of ARSIS F.C., is replicable in every community hosting refugees and migrants, and may serve as a good practice in similar projects implemented within the frame of a community centre. Due to the refugee and migrant setting arising as a global issue, football and sport in general is a great tool of social inclusion and integration with the hosting communities. The project goes beyond the narrow limits of sport sessions and football matches and builds upon a linkage between a football club and a community centre, introducing an innovative scheme for inclusion, in the form of a sustainable network.
Beneficiaries from the YSC become club members, and club members become beneficiaries of the YSC. With the football club as a vehicle, the Youth Support Centre of ARSIS brings local communities and beneficiaries together, fighting stereotypes and discrimination, aiming to lead to a more inclusive society. Given the success of the club and a football for all approach, there are plans to include local population in the club to follow a mixed population approach and take part in the amateur leagues, in addition to creating a women’s football team in the near future.
- Panos Papageorgiou studied Economics (BSc) and Sport Management (MSc), and works as a Development Officer for ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth (Thessaloniki, Greece)
- Contact: [email protected]
- Theofano Mantzari studied Political Science (BA) and Law (LL.M) and works as a Development Officer for ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth (Thessaloniki, Greece)
- Contact: [email protected]