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Refugee Game: Football is a universal language

On the morning of Saturday 27 April before Crystal Palace faced Everton in the Premier League, two sides representing their respective clubs took part in a friendly game with a difference.

The teams were made up of young refugees from right across the world and promoted the importance of welcoming young refugees and asylum seekers into our communities.

The game was part of Amnesty International UK’s Football Welcomes initiative and Croydon’s We Stand Together campaign, which both celebrate the contribution of refugees and strive for more integration.

One of the young men representing Palace has been in the UK for five months after arriving from Sudan. He is now studying English and Maths at College and hoping to find employment in London.

Speaking about the importance of football in his life, he said: “I’ve made lots of friends through football and I enjoy spending free time with them, we laugh together and relax. I played football a lot back home, I’m happy to have this chance to play.”

The game was played at Goals Elmers End in Beckenham and was overseen by Jason Tenega, a coach at the Football United sessions that run weekly for refugees in London: “The sessions provide a safe space for these guys to enjoy themselves and keep fit.

“Many of them have been through very difficult and traumatic journeys to be here but as soon as they’re out there on the pitch, it’s only about the ball and the team. We have guys from all over the world, from Vietnam to Sudan and everywhere in between, but football is a universal language.”

Following the friendly game, both sets of players and staff joined Palace for Life at Selhurst Park to watch the Palace and Everton play out a goalless draw.

Lee Johnson leads refugee sessions for Everton in the Community and said they are getting ever more popular: “We’ve been running the sessions for four years now and we’re constantly getting more referrals from local organisations like Bedspace. Football is very important to these lads, when they come to our sessions we will bring in partners from education and health organisations so that they can tap into any resources available to them.

“For them to come to London is a whole new experience for all of them today. The chance to go to Crystal Palace and watch a game here is just amazing.”

Palace for Life Trustee and We Stand Together project lead for Croydon Voluntary Action Christine Double was also at the game. She added: “The We Stand Together campaign is funded by the London Mayor Comic Relief and is working with refugees to help them to feel more integrated with everyday life.

“The aim is to use sport as a tool to engage and then identify anyone who wants to volunteer and activate other people in their communities. We’ll work with them and train them or help them into coaching, linking them into community sports clubs across Croydon, like Palace for Life, to help them mix with the wider society.”

Find out more about We Stand Together here

Find out more about Amnesty International UK’s Football Welcomes here

Find out more about Football United here

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