Refugee and host community youth participate in football championship to build on shared interests and foster coexistence
Finalist teams competing in TDH and UNHCR's Football Tournament line up on the pitch. UNHCR/Pedro Costa Gomes
Clad in blue, red, lime green and grey jerseys, finalists competing for the “Best Refugee Youth Football Team in Greater Cairo” queued in the center of the freshly manicured pitch at the Olympic Centre in Maadi last Friday.
Organised by Terre des Hommes (TdH), UNHCR’s community empowerment partner, this football tournament was the culmination of earlier, area-based qualifications where winners from the four different project areas were set to compete for the title.
The teams included youth from Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Egypt.
“Sports and arts are two of the main interests for refugee youth aged between 18 and 24,” Suhaib Alaswad, Field Coordinator at TdH said. “They are entry points through which we can implement development and empowerment activities.”
Spreading out across all four corners of the field, players were seen jogging, skipping and side-stepping as they engaged in their warm up sessions. Beads of sweat rolled down their faces as they twisted and molded their bodies into squats, lunges and butterfly stretches.
At the same time, the foldable bleacher seats morphed into an L-shape as supporters of each team poured into their seats. A few minutes later, their Chants grew louder, often overlapping with the unmistakable sound of the referee’s whistle.
“Football is a universal language that everyone speaks and loves,” said Manessa, a 20-year-old refugee from Sudan whose team qualified for the final. When he is not playing football, Manessa studies for a degree in computer science at an Egyptian institute. Nevertheless, at university, football is still “the one thing that brings [them] together.”
More than just a sport, football can help refugee youth overcome the trauma of displacement, according to Mostafa, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee who plays on the red team. The onset of Syrian crisis and its repercussions robbed Mostafa of his dream to become an engineer and winning in football is where he finds some consolation.
“I feel like I am achieving something,” he said.
In 2018, UNHCR initiated youth empowerment activities in response to the needs and aspirations of youth growing up in displacement. Through TdH, UNHCR supported the organization of 23 area-based social and recreational events for refugee youth, including area-based sports tournaments, art performances, and cultural exhibitions.
“Our main objectives were fostering inter-community cohesion between refugee youth of different nationalities and the host community; and promoting their positive development by means of creating a safe space where they can interact,” said Mary Flomo-Hall, UNHCR Community-Based Protection Officer.
The tournament ended with the winning of the 10th of Ramadan City team. Nevertheless, all teams were honored at the closing ceremony. The ceremony featured rap performances by youth members of the community groups TdH supported throughout the year.
When asked by UNHCR if players would like to partake in next year’s tournament, Nabil, a young Somali player said, “If this tournament was held for the thousandth time, we would still participate.”
UNHCR’s support to refugee and asylum-seeker youth is made possible through the generous funding of donor countries, namely Austria, Canada, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States of America, in addition to private donors from Australia, Korea, Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and Sweden.