Friday 20 June was World Refugee Day, with UEFA making an important contribution to helping improve the lives of Syrian refugees at a camp in northern Jordan.
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World Refugee Day is 20 June, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world, and drawing public attention to millions of refugees and displaced persons who may be without food or shelter as a result of war, among other things.
Through football, UEFA is making its own contribution to improving the lives of Syrian refugees at a refugee camp in Jordan. With the FIFA World Cup in full swing, refugees at the Za'atari campsite in northern Jordan took part in a tournament of their own to celebrate the beautiful game and mark the latest World Refugee Day.
Football's popularity means the game can serve as a massive social force. It has the power to help people – men and women, young and old – overcome problems and face the future with greater confidence. The simple joy of kicking a football can bring pleasure, especially to young people who may be in disadvantaged situations.
A key element of UEFA's mission is to contribute to football activities in other parts of the world. European football's governing body is demonstrating its solidarity through a series of memorandums of understanding and activities, with further development of these initiatives planned for the future.
In December 2012, UEFA and the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) signed a memorandum of understanding to promote cooperation and friendly relations. Under the memorandum, UEFA has pledged to assist in Asian development programmes, and is also making technical expertise available. The agreement centres on initiatives which focus, among other things, on the well-being of youngsters, and inclusion and participation by all sectors of society in the game, especially women.
Since September 2013, UEFA has been supporting a particular football programme centring on the Za'atari refugee camp, and the programme is benefiting young Syrian refugees of both genders. The Za'atari campsite is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Thousands of refugees – including a considerable number of youngsters and children – have left their homes in Syria to flee the conflict. One of the measures being undertaken to improve the quality of the youngsters' lives – both boys and girls – is to use football's power and popularity to motivate them.
The Za'atari football project has several components. Firstly, football league tournaments take place inside the camp, with teams organised into 'clubs'; weekly training sessions and regular tournaments are held. The youngsters are being supervised by trained coaches, and can play, and share and acquire football skills, while also learning core values such as respect, fair play, team spirit and solidarity.
The coaches being trained are between 20 and 40 years of age, and have already been engaged in other sporting, educational and recreational activities in the camp. The training has a dual purpose – to develop skills and enhance the coaches' employment prospects; and to provide quality supervision and suitable role models for the children. Jordanian coaches are operating alongside coordinators sent by UEFA.
The project also eventually aims to implement football activities in host communities in northern Jordan. Some 70% of the refugees are living in host communities, which has an impact on Jordanian youngsters – with young Syrians and Jordanians sharing public areas such as schools and sports clubs. Finally, support is being given through the provision of materials – balls, equipment, shoes and educational material – all of which help the youngsters' activities.
Results have been excellent. More coaches have been trained through the programme than the originally targeted 60, and more girls have gradually become involved thanks to the introduction of women coaches. In addition, agencies that are expanding other football programmes are hiring their coaches through the UEFA/AFDP programme. A trophy and medals are being handed to tournament winners and runners-up, and a fair play cup is awarded to the best behaved team.
World Refugee Day on Friday was special – with the culmination of a tournament featuring Under-15 boys' and girls' teams at the Za'atari camp. Matches began last Sunday, and the two finals were followed by an official award ceremony.
UEFA President Michel Platini has first-hand knowledge of the situation. He visited the Za'atari refugee camp last summer with HRH Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, a fellow vice-president of the world football body FIFA and the chairman of the AFDP. "One of UEFA's key missions is to fulfil its social role, with football acting as a catalyst to help bring about social change and improve lives," said Mr Platini. "UEFA is delighted to be supporting the Asian Football Development Project, and helping to give young people the opportunity to come through difficult circumstances by sharing and experiencing the joy of football."
"UEFA's wealth of knowledge and expertise in social development through football has tremendously assisted AFDP in organising football activities and coaching refugees residing in northern Jordan," added HRH Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein. "We are very grateful for UEFA's support and proud of this collaboration through which we hope to instil a positive attitude and ensure our boys and girls believe in a better future."
Future targets within the project include making activities outside the camps sustainable, and helping youngsters learn invaluable life skills. Until then, there is glowing pride and justified satisfaction that considerable numbers of young people are being given an extremely positive and rewarding experience through football – proving once more that the game has a special place in helping those with difficult lives look forward to a better tomorrow.