Using sport in refugee camps: Does sport have a role in the refugee crisis?
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Sport and development (S&D) projects in refugee camps must be delivered in a culturally sensitive manner that caters to the needs of the refugee community. Whilst challenges remain, the close coordination of NGOs, the refugee community and other stakeholders provides opportunities for S&D to contribute to the humanitarian response.

The UN’s Syria regional response is currently working with 4,088,099 ‘persons of concern’. 51% of those registered are under the age of 18. There is a need to bind these people together around the basic necessities of health, education and community.

What role can sport and development play?
Sport programmes have been used in refugee camps as a means to improve enrolment and incentivise children’s efforts in school. No less important is the understanding that providing safe and accessible infrastructure for sport and play allows children to be children. Structured S&D can offer opportunities for the refugee community to receive valuable psychosocial support, as sport can be used to streamline the delivery of other health initiatives.

We’re all in this together
One of the key points raised in previous research on implementing sport in refugee camps has been the importance of securing the cooperation of a range of partners: relief organisations, the refugee community and other potential partners such as local populations, the private sector and sports federations. Intelligent partnerships provide opportunities for financial, logistical and technical support that are vital to any large scale humanitarian response – sport must have something to offer here and clearly communicating it is vital.

Sport for all vs competitive sport
Many development professionals argue that a key element of successful S&D projects is a focus on ‘sport for all’, rather than competitive sport. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in refugee camps, where competitive sport can divide communities at the expense of sport’s intended purpose of promoting peace building, providing psychosocial support and acting as a ‘hook’ for involvement in wider education and health initiatives.

This problem persists in the use of sport and play with refugees. Development practitioners and governments would do well to resist pressure from organisations pushing for a competitive sport focus.

Embedding S&D in the wider humanitarian response
To effectively use sport and play in this environment, close collaboration between NGOs responsible for the management of these camps and implementing S&D partners ensures initiatives can most effectively embed their efforts into the wider humanitarian response. Research has noted that limited resources and pressure on capacities require NGOs to use local sport partners and other external organisations for the practical delivery of sport and play projects.

This can be achieved, as Mercy Corps has done, by using local talent and skills to deliver sport and education initiatives, for example. Delivering refugee projects in this way is important, as it includes the refugee community in their humanitarian response, utilises the abundant labour pool available and returns some normality to people’s lives.

Facilitating projects that strike a balance between meeting the self-determined needs of the refugee community and ensuring a targeted development-sport for all focus, is a challenge. But it is one that the S&D community must tackle effectively if these projects can really make a difference to the lives of these people hoping for a better future.




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