Where we have come from

The idea for the first refugee football festival came from one of our volunteers, a refugee lawyer based in Dublin, who first volunteered in Lesvos in December 2015 helping refugee boats land safely. At the time, refugees would spend a few days in Lesvos before continuing their journey to mainland Europe. The progressive closure of European borders in early 2016, however, turned Lesvos into a focal point for the reception and processing of asylum claims. Refugees now spend months in Lesvos, living in very precarious conditions in two refugee camps, Kará Tepé and Moria (a former prison) before their international protection claims are processed.

This stagnant situation in Lesvos called for the urgent promotion of social integration measures, both within the diverse refugee population as well as between it and the local communities. It is in this context that our idea to organise football activities for the young people of Lesvos developed.

The First Football Festival (September 2016)

Soon after his return from Lesvos, our volunteer set about contacting friends in Ireland and beyond to help put some kind of football event in place. What we lacked in experience, we made up for in hard work and enthusiasm, and within a few short months our team of volunteers travelled to Lesvos in September 2016 to hold the first ever Kará Tepé Football Festival.

The Festival was a great success – inspiring huge interest and enthusiasm from the young people of Kará Tepé refugee camp. Around 150 boys and girls (drawn mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea) played football together each day, spread into groups according to age and gender. As you will see from the videos of the children chanting and singing on their way to the football, they were hugely excited to play. On our daily ‘player registration’ visits to the camp each morning, we were overwhelmed by the tremendous interest and positivity shown.

The first Festival culminated in the creation of a new football team of refugee children, Kará Tepé United (KTU), which played matches against none other than the academy of Greek footballing giants, Olympiacos FC. This was a truly special demonstration of the unifying power of sport with young people from different countries, different backgrounds and different languages all united in the name of football and fun.

First Training Season

Enthused by the success of the first festival and the profound impact of the experience on the volunteers, we decided to give the project continuity by sponsoring regular training for KTU’s youth. To that end, we partnered with a local NGO who, with the financial support of our generous sponsors, have been providing twice a week football training to the boys and girls of Kará Tepé. During November and December 2016 more than 300 children have benefited from the programme. With your support, we hope to make this invaluable partnership sustainable in the future.

Football For Refugees Winter Festival

Following our successful September festival, a group of Football For Refugees volunteers returned to Lesvos in December, 2016 for another festival of football.  Our goal was to use football to enrich the lives of the refugee children of Lesvos, promote social integration within the different refugee groups and develop bonds between the refugee community and the local Greek population.

In addition to the children of Kará Tépé, the Winter Festival saw us broadening our scope to include the teenage refugees of the Moria Camp, the unaccompanied minors housed by various NGOs throughout the island and children from young families housed by the local Caritas organisation. We planned to begin with coaching followed by age appropriate tournaments for refugee children from the ages of 8 to 18.  We particularly sought to promote the participation of girls, foster good sportsmanship and fun.

 

Kará Tepé United

On the 30th of December, our volunteers visited Kará Tepé Refugee Camp to meet with the children and NGO volunteers.  On the 31st of December, we observed and participated in training sessions of Kará Tepé United boys and girls teams.  We witnessed the empowerment of young adult refugees who since September have assumed supervisorial and coaching roles.  With the ongoing support of our sponsors, Football For Refugees continues to provide funding and assistance to our local partners to facilitate the training of Kará Tepé United.

 

The United Cup Tournament

The inaugural United Cup Tournament took place at Spanos Mini Football Club from the 2nd to the 6th of January, 2017.  174 children participated in 33 matches played over 5 days.   16 teams were divided by age into 4 groups of 4 progressing to semi finals and finals.

The tournament  was fully embraced by the children who enjoyed themselves and were fully engaged throughout.  Mindful of the need to temper the winning impulse to prevent the pursuit of success taking precedence over play and enjoyment, we emphasised the importance of Fair Play in all aspects of tournament participation.

Matches of great quality were played with much excitement for players and spectators alike.  As the tournament progressed, it was evident that bonds of friendship were forming between children of various backgrounds.  Their performance and that of their team mattered to them.  The children learned the values of self-discipline, motivation and the benefits of organisation.  They gained a sense of unity through teamwork as they tried their best and measured themselves against their peers.  Characters were shaped and great memories made.

We hope that the football festival environment facilitated the children in finding abilities and strengths within themselves to cope with the world away from football.

Partnership

We are delighted to have established many close associations with Greek organisations and NGOs with responsibility for the refugee children.  We offer our thanks to the workers and volunteer s of: PRAKSIS, METAdrasi, Movement on the Ground, Moria, Caritas and Iliaktida.  There could be no festival without their cooperation.   We collaborated together to ensure that every decision was made having regard for the best interests of the participant children as our paramount consideration.  Full engagement with all stakeholders during our time in Lesvos ensured the festival ran smoothly and we look forward to advancing our fruitful partnerships in the future.

 

Olympiacos Football Academy Scholarship sponsored by Football For Refugees

We are very thankful to Mr. Vaggelis Spanos of Spanos Mini Football Club for the participation of his Olympiacos academy team in our tournament.  Their participation assists us in achieving our objective of developing relationships between the refugee community and the local Greek population.  The composure of the young Olympiacos players on the field of play was matched by their poise off the pitch in the welcome they extended to the refugee children.   They are a great credit to the people of Lesvos and give hope that the seeds of integration can be sown by children on the field of play.

At the conclusion of the tournament, our relationship with Mr. Spanos was consolidated and enhanced with the instigation of a unique initiative between Football For Refugees and Spanos Mini FC/Olympiacos Academy.  In the spirit of partnership and true integration, we created a football scholarship programme to benefit young refugee footballers.  It is a development of which we are extremely proud.  The first beneficiaries of the programme are three young refugee boys.  They have joined the Olympiacos Academy where they will be coached every week as teammates and equals with local Lesvos children.  They will have the opportunity to develop their skills and learn through football under the tutelage of Mr. Spanos and his fellow Academy coaches.