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Refugees, asylum seekers and locals in Greece come together through football

2019-05-14

It is increasingly likely that many of the 65,000 refugees in Greece will stay for years to come. High numbers of young refugees are struggling with disconnection from friends, family and other people who could provide them with practical or emotional support.

The insufficient services for refugees combined with protection and survival challenges, exposure to violence, and personal loss, negatively impacts refugees’ sense of self and safety, and frequently leads to reduced psychosocial well-being. Terre des hommes (Tdh) improves young refugees’ psychosocial well-being by using football as a tool for protection, social inclusion and cohesion.

Starting April 2019, Terre des hommes Hellas organise weekly football training sessions in and around Thessaloniki. Both locals and refugees over the age of 15 years are invited to play, coach or referee football regularly. These sessions will help participants to improve their social and cooperation skills, meet others with the same interest and make friends. We welcome everyone regardless of their nationality, gender, sexuality, religion and football level. Our football sessions are inclusive and require respectful behaviour from players, coaches and referees.

"These weekly meetings are an opportunity for refugee children and young people to get out of the camps and the apartments where they are housed and to do something constructive that brings them in contact with the local population. Our experience has shown us that through such activities children acquire a sense of belonging in a community. Movement and physical well-being is also a pathway to mental health. Many children and youth in migration have suffered trauma in their long journey to reach Europe. Sports acts as a remedy to them," says Melina Spathari, Advocacy and Communications manager at Terre des hommes Hellas.

In order to strengthen the local capacity, we recruit and train eight volunteer coaches to use football as a means for protection, social inclusion and psychosocial support. The coaches will help us to run the football sessions which will consist of a warm-up, training drills and finish up with a match between the participants.

This project builds on the work of other local sports organisations which have been making football available for all in Thessaloniki, including its diverse refugee population. Having a 13 years’ experience in using sport as a tool for protection, Tdh will support Refugee Trauma Initiative Hellas (RTI) to increase community engagement and participation, and create leadership opportunities through the training of coaches. RTI will also improve its capacity to promote inclusion and cohesion, and provide psychosocial support through their work.  

Overall, we will equip RTI with a replicable model of using sport as a tool for protection which ensures:

  • a safe and supportive environment;
  • opportunities to build young people’s individual skills, capacities and resources;
  • positive and sustained support and mentoring of peers, coaches and others;
  • and meaningful engagement and leadership of refugees in sport activities. 

The weekly football sessions are funded by the European Union.

For more information, please contact: Melina Spathari, Advocacy and Communications, Terre des hommes Hellas, email: melina.spathari@tdh.ch

Photo credit: Refugee Trauma Initiative