• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Real Madrid trains refugee children in Panama City suburb

News Stories, 27 June 2007

© UNHCR/M.-H.Verney
Soccer supremo. A young footballer attending the sports school runs up for a shot at goal.

PANAMA CITY, Panama, June 27 (UNHCR) It's a long way from the Bernabeu stadium to Central America, but there is a direct link between Real Madrid's hallowed ground and a suburb overlooking the Panama Canal.

The City of Knowledge gathers several prestigious universities and schools built on the site of Panama's last US naval base, which was closed in 1999. They include the School for Sports Education and Social Integration, which was opened by the Real Madrid Foundation last year to teach football and provide a rounded education for hundreds of Panamanian youngsters.

This year, following an agreement between UNHCR and the Real Madrid Foundation, it opened its doors to 11 refugee children in Panama City. They joined more than 500 other students aged between five and 18, who were selected on the basis of both their skills and social background.

"Of course we want to train good players, but we also want to give the kids a chance to develop their full potential as human beings," explained the school's technical director, former Real Madrid player Angel Pérez, while keeping an eye on four different games at once.

On one pitch, the younger children were learning the basics of the game. Nine-year-old refugee Roberto* seemed stunned after scoring an impressive goal and winning the coach's praises. The boy arrived from Colombia just over a year ago and the adjustment to a new life far from home has been hard for him.

His mother, Lucia,* was watching from the sidelines. She said that for a long time after arriving the boy refused to speak and would not go to school." He told me the other children did not like him for being Colombian," she explained, adding that Roberto had changed a lot since joining the Real Madrid school." It's doing him a lot of good, he's beginning to open up and make friends again."

There are two other refugee children on Roberto's team both girls. Karina*, aged seven, is also Colombian, while eight-year-old Eloise* comes from Haiti. The training sessions and matches give their parents a chance to meet and socialize, regardless of nationality. It is a rare opportunity to break down barriers and make friends.

"There is a lot of mistrust; people think that because we are Colombians we are all narco-traffickers or guerrillas," Karina's mother noted. "Once they get to know us better they realize it's not true and their attitude changes completely."

Tuition at the School for Sports Education and Social Integration is free for refugee children and the school also pays for transport, uniforms and two meals a day. At weekends, the children travel to tournaments around the country.

"Football brings people together; this is a very good way for young refugees to get to know other children. Children can feel very isolated when they reach a new country and often they are at risk of being marginalized, so the Real Madrid school really helps them a lot," said UNHCR Representative in Panama José Euceda, adding that the government was very supportive of the project.

The Real Madrid Foundation runs similar schools in Chile, Bolivia, El Salvador and Ecuador and is planning to open several more in other American countries. UNHCR hopes to extend its collaboration with the Foundation to give more young refugees a chance to fulfil their potential through the game.

After a four-year wait, Real Madrid recently won Spain's Primera Liga, snatching a 3-1 victory over Mallorca in their last match of the season. They ended up equal on points with holders Barcelona but took their 30th league title because of a better head-to-head record.

* Names have been changed for protection reasons

By Marie-Hélène Verney in Panama City, Panama

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women AlonePlay video

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women Alone

Lina has not heard from her husband since he was detained in Syria two years ago. Now a refugee in Lebanon, she lives in a tented settlement with her seven children.
Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in AfricaPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in Africa

The World Food Programme and the United Nations refugee agency seek urgent funding to help 800,000 refugees in Africa affected by food shortages. Cuts in food rations threaten to worsen already unacceptable levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia, particularly in children.
Global Trends 2013: UNHCR Releases Annual Refugee StatisticsPlay video

Global Trends 2013: UNHCR Releases Annual Refugee Statistics

The UN refugee agency releases annual statistics showing that more than 51 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, the largest number since the end of World War II. Half of the world's refugees in 2013 were children.