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World Refugee Day 2024: UEFA and the football community welcoming refugees

On World Refugee Day, we show support #WithRefugees and showcase our on-going work alongside UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Lara Suffel/DFB

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

Each year, 20 June marks World Refugee Day, celebrating the millions of displaced people who have been forced to leave their home country to escape conflict or persecution.

Through UEFA partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and a series of programmes and initiatives, we use football and the transformative power of sport to help assist refugees' integration into their host communities.

Activities include financial support for European football's national associations through grants and project-specific funding, participation opportunities through UEFA fan festivals, and an international tournament – the Unity Euro Cup – bringing together amateur national teams composed of refugees and host communities.

Below, we highlight some of the UEFA initiatives that are helping to promote social inclusion for refugees.

Unity EURO Cup

Our football activities for refugees also include the Unity EURO Cup, launched with support from UNHCR in 2022.

The annual event, involving more than 170 players from refugee and host communities, gives participants from 16 international teams the opportunity to represent their host country in a unique international tournament, played in the spirit of inclusiveness. The third edition will be played on 10 October 2024 at UEFA’s HQ in Switzerland.

Watch: 2023 UEFA Unity EURO Cup

EURO 2024 – United by Football

United by Football – creating a meaningful connection between refugees and their host communities is exactly what UEFA sets out to do with our refugee support programmes. İlkay Gündoğan, captain of EURO 2024 host Germany, has been supporting UNHCR since the beginning of 2021, and voiced his support to refugees in a special video marking World Refugee Day 2024.

World Refugee Day with UNHCR and İlkay Gündoğan

Former professional players David James and Robert Pirés have also recently shown their support to refugees, participating in a UNHCR-led activity at the UEFA Europa League final fan festival in Dublin, Ireland. The former stars enjoyed interacting with young refugee footballers and their friends from local host communities.

Robert Pirés and David James
Robert Pirés and David JamesAoife Harte / UNHCR

A week later, in cooperation with the English Football League (EFL) Trust, UNHCR UK hosted the final of a nation-wide tournament for girls’ teams comprised of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as local community members, at the Champions Festival in London.

Preston North End, winners of the EFL Trust tournament at the Champions Festival
Preston North End, winners of the EFL Trust tournament at the Champions Festival

The UEFA Refugee Grant Programme

The refugee-related national football association projects across Europe empower refugees to be co-creators, include them in the game and, increasingly, help them to find employment in or through football. Since 2017, UEFA has been providing annual funding for this purpose. Each season, more than 20 member associations are supported with UEFA’s fund.

Each programme carefully analyses refugees’ needs and uses a tailor-made approach to respond to them - always keeping football at its core. In 2024, grants have been awarded to national associations from Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Wales.

An independent jury evaluates all applications and provides valuable expert guidance to the applicants, enabling them to develop even more effective programmes in the future. In 2024, the jury was composed of representatives from UNHCR, Sport & Citizenship, the Council of Europe’s Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), as well as Khalida Popal, a refugee and former professional footballer from Afghanistan, and Moussa Sangare, member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on migrant and refugee issues.

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