This weekend will see Everton Football Club, Everton Ladies and Everton in the Community, join football clubs across the country in celebrating the contribution refugees have made to football as part of the Amnesty International initiative, ‘Football Welcomes’.
And on his recent return to Goodison Park, Everton International Ambassador Steven Pienaar spent time with Everton in the Community to find out more about the role that the club’s official charity plays in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in their relocation to Liverpool.
Former Blues winger, and the club’s first International Ambassador, Pienaar went along to The People’s Hub to meet participants who attend the charity’s weekly coaching session for refugees, asylum seekers and people currently experiencing, or have experienced, homelessness or addiction issues.
South African Pienaar spent a sunny afternoon with EitC finding out more about the programme and those who it supports as well before lacing up his boots and joining the men in taking part in some training drills followed by a short-sided game of football.
Reflecting on the session, Pienaar said: “After having been through so much, fleeing war and persecution to then arriving in the UK and facing a new language and culture, these sessions give people a chance to forget about their troubles for an hour or so, make new friends and feel part of the community. I’m really pleased that my club is taking an active role in this and sending a clear message that Everton welcomes refugees.
“I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers. I’m really proud that Everton is taking part in Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes weekend.”
The weekly sessions provide an opportunity for local men to play football as well as accessing vital support and finding out more about potential pathways. With support from Asylum Link Merseyside, the programme helps to facilitate integration and creating a safe haven for them.
Everton in the Community has been delivering football sessions for refugees and asylum seekers for almost three years and have supported over 140 individuals from over 25 countries including Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan and Somalia.
Supported by a range of Premier League clubs, the English Football League and the FA Women’s Super League, Amnesty International’s ‘Football Welcomes’ initiative also aims to highlight the important role football clubs can play in promoting community cohesion.
Dame Judi Dench, Honorary Patron of Everton in the Community, has also given her backing to the campaign and said: “Football, and all sports, are for everyone to enjoy. How wonderful that the football clubs are making this particular stand and ensuring that everybody is included and made welcome.”
Football Welcomes is part of Amnesty International’s I Welcome campaign for a better international response to the global refugee crisis. The campaign encourages local communities to work together to create a more welcoming environment for people fleeing conflict and persecution.