How Sport Can Play a Vital Role in Rehabilitating and Integrating Refugees
Last weekend saw an estimated 40,000 people pounding the pavements of the capital for the 37th London Marathon. Once again, the event demonstrated how sport is a great way of bringing people together, people who, perhaps, are from very different backgrounds, but share a common interest. But as the global refugee crisis continues to dominate headlines, how can we utilise sport to create social change for refugees?
Whenever you talk or read about the crisis, it quickly becomes evident that it is a topic that inspires strong emotions. Nevertheless, it is easy to get lost in the statistics. An increase in conflict has seen more than an estimated 60 million people forced to flee their homes, creating more than 15 million refugees worldwide.
But refugees aren’t statistics; they are people. They are people and Olympic athletes like runner Yiech Pur Biel and swimmer Yusra Mardini, both of whom have highlighted the important role sport has played in their lives. For the first time in Olympic history, a team of refugees, the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) competed in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Their participation was an important signal to the world that refugees are fellow human beings, and how sport can serve as a fantastic tool through which refugees can feel welcomed and part of society.
Refugees’ lives can often be branded with physical, psychological and emotional strife. However, well-run sports programmes can help improve quality of life and psychosocial development. Here are four ways sport and physical activity can help rehabilitate and integrate refugees.
Helping to deal with trauma
A loss of normality and security, traumatic experiences, and losing loved ones are amongst the factors influencing a refugee’s emotional wellbeing. Sport creates safe spaces for healing, bringing people back together and allowing them to gather and communicate on both a group and individual level. It provides children the opportunity to play and laugh, share experiences, build social networks, and establish and restore some sense of normality.
Integrating with host communities and other groups
Participation in sport creates a sense of belonging; building trust and bridging social, cultural and economic divides‒ in addition to breaking down negative stereotypes. Sport and physical activity can be a remarkable learning experience helping to disassemble negative prejudices, facilitating the creation of a shared identity and therefore allowing groups to learn to work together and appreciate cultural differences.
Developing skills for employability and education
Displacement can have a detrimental effect on both education and employment. Used effectively, sport and physical activity can be extremely effective in recruiting for educational and employability programmes that run parallel to sport. The sport and activity itself provides participants with the opportunity to develop skills that are not only attractive to employers, such as respect, teamwork, cooperation, leadership, decision-making, adherence to rules and handling success and failure; but are also vital skills in creating a cohesive, successful community.
Constructive, not destructive, behaviour
The past experiences of refugees often cause anger, fear, isolation, and depression. All can lead to turning to drugs or alcohol; participating in, or being recruited for, armed conflict; or using sexual and domestic violence as a coping mechanism. Unless people, particularly the young, are offered adequate opportunities to live productively and independently, they often contribute to the next round of conflict, creating a never-ending cycle. Sport can provide a controlled environment for people to channel these feelings of aggression and frustration. Sports programmes can enable people of all ages and from all different backgrounds to take part in social and recreational activities, creating an environment of recovery and growth rather than stagnation and hopelessness. Social structures are created, improving the overall sense of community and security. Additionally, sport can help prevent health crises by serving as a tool for the distribution of positive and achievable health messages.
So what can I do?
It is sometimes hard to know where to start when people ask, “what can I do?” But everyone can start by learning the facts, sharing information in a truthful and respectful way, and by using their voice to support these sporting movements.
Much work is still to be done to fully connect the international movement to practitioners, organisations, and programmes to bring the sport and development sectors together. The UN, along with organisations including Right To Play, Street Games, and Beyond Sport are working hard to implement programmes to provide a sustainable solution to this continuing crisis. We Make Change can connect you to the charity of your choice in order for you to express your support.
Carried out wisely, sport and physical activity have the potential to play an important role in fostering development and peace. Sport provides people with a voice which they can use, both individually and collectively, to bring about change in their own lives and their communities.
Gina Paletta, Blog Writer
- We Make Change
- Beyond Sport
- The UN Refugee Agency
- Street Games
- Right To Play
- The Huffington Post: Sport for Peaceful Coexistence in Host Refugee Communities
At We Make Change our mission is to give you the power to change the world. Find out more here.
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