Football is helping refugees move more and feel part of the community

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MFC Foundation’s vision is to inspire confidence and hope.

When it was approached by several residents and charities to put on a football festival for those seeking asylum, it jumped at the chance to get involved.

Building on the initial festival success, MFC Foundation wanted to continue providing a welcoming environment for asylum seekers new to the town, so it carried on holding regular football sessions.

Since then, MFC Foundation’s support for those seeking asylum has continued to grow. With funding through Amnesty International, it has gone on to team up with Methodist Asylum Project (MAP) and the North Riding FA to deliver an initiative called Football Welcomes.

The initiative means the Foundation has been able to offer football and educational provision for those who have sought asylum in Middlesbrough due to fleeing war, conflict and the risk of persecution in their home countries.

Football Welcomes provides weekly football activity sessions for men and women, English language classes and training qualifications in coaching or refereeing.

Bringing refugees together to move more and be active is also a way for them to connect and make new friends, develop their skills, have a sense of belonging and feel part of the local community.

Paul South, a Health Coordinator at MFC Foundation, said: “The language of football is an international language. No matter what language people speak, the game transcends barriers as it brings people together regardless of nationality, cultural background or legal status.

“For refugees and asylum seekers, starting a new life in a place, they are not familiar with must feel extremely daunting.

“Football Welcomes allows us to help them integrate and reduce the isolation people seeking asylum feel by helping them socialise and meet those in a similar position to them in their new home.”

Everyone wants to live in a place where they feel safe and welcome. For people fleeing conflict and persecution, football can play a hugely important role in helping them settle, learn the language, make new friends and get to know the local area.

Middlesbrough Football Club and the Foundation are at the heart of the local community; they unite people on and off the pitch and give a sense of belonging, meaning they are ideally placed to help those seeking asylum to feel welcome and settle in the area.

“As a community, it’s important that we are there to help people who have often been through horrendous situations feel at home and know they can belong, support their recovery and help them create a better life for themselves.

“It doesn’t take long for those involved in the programme to refer to the football club and Foundation as ‘us’, which is a reflection of the fact they see the town as their own rather than somewhere they’ve been sent.”

Football Welcomes is making a big impact, having supported almost 150 participants from 25 countries worldwide.

“We’ve provided much more than just football games; we also offer volunteering opportunities at the club and the Foundation plus training to gain sports qualifications.

“One person is training for his Level Two Football Award, and we have quite a few referees who have qualified through the programme; some have been employed by the Foundation and the club when they received refugee status to stay in the country.”

Whilst not all those seeking refuge and asylum are interested in football; they still come along for the community spirit. Those interested in other ways to be active are signposted to groups such as running and cycling clubs, who can help them source equipment.

“Where we can, we will also help people who don’t necessarily like football and get them involved in an activity that they really want to do.

“Whilst going through the process to obtain status to stay in the country, those seeking asylum can’t work or access education for at least six months. So they need to occupy their time, and we can provide positive opportunities in their weekly routine that will help them in their journey and moving to a new environment.”

Football Welcomes means refugees can get a real sense that Middlesbrough extends them a warm welcome and friendship, which Paul thinks is a priceless feeling and something everyone involved can be proud of.

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