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World Refugee Day 2023: UEFA and the football community offer hope away from home

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On World Refugee Day, we highlight UEFA's on-going work alongside UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and look ahead to next week's UNITY EURO CUP in Frankfurt.


On 20 June each year, World Refugee Day celebrates the strength and courage of people around the globe who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.

UEFA supports refugee access to sport, harnessing the transformative power of football to assist and uphold their rights, and strengthen their integration within their host communities.

Activities span financial support for National Associations through grants and project-specific funding, participation opportunities through UEFA Fan Festivals, and an international tournament bringing together national teams composed of refugees and host communities.

UEFA works together with its member associations, UNHCR and its regional offices to support refugee access to sport and promote social inclusion.

The UEFA Refugee Grant Programme

UEFA also provides funding through its Football and Refugees Grant Scheme, each year, which since 2017 has supported refugee-related national football association projects across Europe. This year, UEFA increased the funding by more than 40 per cent, with initiatives by 24 of its member associations across the continent now supported. Each programme uses a bespoke approach, always keeping football at its core. As well as offering access to regular training and coaching or refereeing courses, the programmes help to bring participants closer to their host communities and also provide support with learning local languages and customs.

In 2023, grants have been awarded to national associations from Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Grant applications were evaluated by representatives of UNHCR, the Council of Europe, Sport & Citizenship, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, as well as former and current refugees passionate about football.

UNITY EURO CUP 2023 in Frankfurt

In 2022, with the support of UNHCR, UEFA launched the UNITY EURO CUP, giving participants from eight teams the opportunity to represent their host country in a unique international tournament played in the spirit of inclusiveness.

After the resounding success of that first edition in Switzerland last year, we will stage a second UNITY EURO CUP in Frankfurt, Germany on 28 June.

The tournament will be just one element of the UEFA Respect Forum, a two-day event at the German Football Association (DFB) Campus, which will see experts and football industry leaders discuss social and environmental sustainability within the game, as well as a keynote speech from UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi on the sport's positive impact on refugees.


The event represents an important opportunity to raise awareness on the power of football in breaking down barriers and creating a spirit of inclusion. This year, 16 teams will compete to become the champions of the UNITY EURO CUP 2023, representing Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the European Union. Each squad will be composed of eight refugee players and three non-refugee players, including at least two women. In total, the tournament will involve more than 170 young people from refugee and host communities.

Sixteen eminent ambassadors, including World Cup winner Marco Tardelli will also be on hand to support their teams at the tournament, which will be played at SC Weiss-Blau, a local football club in Frankfurt, with the final taking place at the DFB Campus.

The draw for the tournament took place at UEFA’s Headquarters in Nyon today. To discover the results, we invite you to watch this short video.


UEFA, member associations and UNHCR

As part of the UEFA Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, UEFA supports refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people to remain physically and mentally healthy and be included in their host community through football.

UNHCR has also developed the UNHCR Sport Strategy – More than a Game - which outlines the role that sports and sports organisations can play in improving the lives of displaced and stateless people and in supporting integration within their host communities.

The two organisations recently teamed up during the fan festivals at the UEFA Europa Conference League and Champions League finals in Budapest and Istanbul.

In Budapest, UNHCR hosted Hungarian football team DVTK Miskolc, who support refugee children from Ukraine between the ages of seven and 18. The aspiring footballers played on the same festival pitch as legends like Esteban Cambiasso, William Gallas and Luis García, as well as enjoying its wider activities with their mothers and care givers.

At Istanbul's Champions Festival, Brazilian legend Kaká played in a special match featuring diverse teams of refugees and host community members the day after Manchester City's 1-0 win over Inter.

Brazilian legend Kaká meets fans at a UNHCR event in Istanbul
Brazilian legend Kaká meets fans at a UNHCR event in IstanbulUEFA via Getty Images