Live Together - Greece
Over 45% of the refugees and migrants who arrived in Greece in 2019 landed on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is separated from Turkey by a 10km channel and is home to 88,000 people. In winter, incidents at sea are an almost daily occurrence. Many lives are lost as a result of shipwrecks off the coast of Lesbos.
The increasing influx of arrivals has put extreme pressure on the island, where there are more than 40,000 refugees and migrants, despite the official reception capacity being limited to 2,800. Some 18,000 are staying in Mória (capacity of 2,300) and 2,500 in Kara Tepe. There is no longer space in these official reception and registration sites, so makeshift shelters have been built in a rubbish-filled olive grove around the camp.
The number of refugees and migrants on the islands is extremely high and there is a severe lack of adequate shelter, sanitation and site management, which exposes refugees and migrants to severe risks. The majority of refugees and migrants are families and a third of the population are children, most below the age of 12. Thousands of women, men and children are currently living in small tents, exposed to cold and rain with little or no access to heating, electricity or hot water.
Hygiene and sanitation conditions are unsafe. On top of that, registration backlogs in Mória and Kara Tepe and the overcrowding of reception facilities have led to tensions among refugee groups and between refugees and the police. Towards the end of 2019, local communities also started protesting and demanding urgent action to alleviate the pressure on the island. Friction is growing between local people and asylum seekers landing in boats from Turkey. Anti-immigrant sentiment has increased with non-governmental organisations also being targeted.
The Live Together project is made up of three sub-projects:
1. Two teams, one world
Cosmos FC, a refugees’ football club, was founded in September 2016 on the initiative of a Lesbos native and ex-footballer who saw the potential for sports to alleviate the tensions caused by the refugee crisis on the island. Football can be more than just a game. Since 2016, the club has involved over 400 adults and minors – including girls, and regardless of religion and race – from 17 different countries.
Over the last two and a half years, Cosmos FC has been a sanctuary for people arriving on Lesbos (the island with the largest refugee population in Greece) on their way to the so-called ‘promised land’. Regular training and friendly matches against local clubs provide people with a sense of normality. At the same time, the club has gained the appreciation and respect of the local population of Lesbos.
In January 2019, Francis Kalombo, a 15-year-old Congolese boy and member of Cosmos FC became the first refugee to obtain an official licence to play in a European club, Aiolikos FC. His story instantly went viral, spreading throughout Greece and beyond and helping locals and refugees together raise awareness about refugees’ limited or non-existent access to sport. Subsequently, the Greek parliament passed legislation granting the right to participate in the amateur league and amateur cup matches not only to recognised refugees, but also to asylum-seekers, stateless persons and migrants who have a residence permit or have applied for a residence permit.
With the Two teams, one world project, Aiolikos FC and Cosmos FC are working together with the UEFA foundation to support more young refugees, including unaccompanied minors, teenagers and young adults.
The project will give 250 to 300 unaccompanied minors and other refugees aged 13 to 18 the opportunity to learn more about football through regular training. Regular exercise will help improve their physical and mental health, and football, as a team sport, will help them gain a sense of belonging, learn about teamwork and improve their self-confidence.
Friendly matches with local clubs will be combined with educational field trips to teach refugees about Greek and European societies and lifestyles, with a view to helping them adapt and integrate more easily. Refugees and Greek people from all backgrounds will play together, regardless of politics, religion or ethnicity, thus bridging possible divides between refugees and locals and creating the ideal opportunity to get to know one another.
An annual tournament (Cosmos Cup) will also be organised, involving either national or local clubs depending on the funding available, with the aim of combatting social exclusion and negative perceptions about refugees in society.
- Improve refugees’ living conditions and securing their fundamental right to personal development through sports and social interaction
- Build a stable environment in which young refugees can overcome psychological disorders and build self-confidence
- Cultivate a spirit of teamwork and solidarity
- Integrate refugees into a European society and mainstream football
- Reach female refugees, most of whom did not have the chance to play football or any other sport in their country of origin, because of the cultural and/or religious context
- Combat social exclusion and negative sentiments about refugees in society
- Use regular training and tournaments to create opportunities for refugees and locals to play together
- Act as a pilot programme, raising awareness and encouraging and supporting other clubs to launch similar programmes, particularly on the other North Aegean islands (Samos, Chíos) that accommodate large number of refugees
- Knowledge-sharing between Cosmos FC and Aiolikos FC, the only professional football club on Lesbos
- Regular football training for 300 unaccompanied minors and teenage refugees aged 13 to 18
- Educational field trips combined with friendly games with local teams
- Cosmos Cup tournament
- Encouraging other clubs and refugee camps to launch similar projects, especially on the other North Aegean islands (Samos, Chíos), which also accommodate a large number of refugees
- Regular football training held for at least 300 unaccompanied minors and teenage refugees aged 13 to 18
- One annual Cosmos Cup tournament
- At least four educational field trips combined with friendly games with local teams each year
- Increased participation of girls
- Development of similar programmes at other football clubs
Sekou Soumah, 19 years old.
''My name is Sekou Soumah, I am now 19 years old and I come from Guinea. I never met my parents and I grew up with my grandmother in a very hostile environment, because of the political and religious problems between the citizens of my country. When I was 15 years old, my grandmother died. I was alone, without any hope for life, so I decided to find a better future in Europe. I arrived with a group of other kids, almost in my age in Istanbul in December 2016. I stayed in an apartment with some other unknown for me people, waiting for the phone call from the traffickers. Next trip was from the Turkish coast to Lesbos. Since I saw the lights from the houses from the village of Lesbos, a feeling of hope came again in my heart. I stayed at the camp of Mória for 11 months, until I moved as an unaccompanied minor to the houses of "Iliaktida' in Mytilene. By that time, I became a recognised refugee. The time I spent in Mória was very difficult for an unaccompanied refugee minor. During this time, I discovered, "Cosmos", a football team consisting of refugees. I enjoyed the training and the friendly games with the local clubs. I made many Greek friends, many of them footballers and that was a motivation for me to start learning the Greek language. I speak almost fluently Greek now. In May 2019, I decided to take another step and I moved to Athens. I was lucky because I found a job quickly, but my heart was back to the island, to my family, to George and Cosmos. George offered me to play officially with Eolikos and the next day I was back. Since November 2019, I have a professional contract with Eolikos. My life has totally changed and it's full of hope. When I am free, I assist with the trainings of Cosmos. I can’t forget from where I started my new life. At this point, I want to say a very big thank you to UEFA Foundation for Children, which supports this project. We’ll keep trying all together to offer hope, smile and good time to the kids of Mória"– Sekou Soumah
Temor, 16 years old
"My name is Temor, I am 16 years old and I come from Afghanistan. In my country the situation is scary, and people are fighting each other for religious and political reasons. It is very difficult to live, to walk outside, because everything can happen to you from criminality and hate. There is no peace anymore. Everyday innocent people are killed. We went from Afghanistan to Iran for 4 years, but the situation also became very hostile and unfriendly for us. So we had to move for one more time, but this time I had to travel on my own... After 2 months in Istanbul and under very inhuman living conditions. The dealers drove us to thecoast of Turkey, and they pushed us in an inflatable boat. I remember that some of us had to share only one life jacket... I have been in Mória for the last six months as an unaccompanied refugee minor at section B. From the first months of being there, I knew about a very interesting football program, named ' Cosmos". The very first day, I realized that it is anice break from our boring life in the camp. I felt directly that I belonged to a new family, consisted of very friendly people. I was informed that the project was supported by 'UEFA Foundation for Children". We enjoy the trainings with new and clean shoes, uniforms etc, but also with a very good coach, Mr Spanos. I still wait for EASO to give me date for my interview. I hope that I will have it soon. Until then, I will keep enjoyingthe project, with my friends andI would like to say thank you so much "UEFA Foundation for Children" for all your support. I hope that one day you will come and visit us and to see how good players we are." – Temor
Stratos Valios, captain of Eolikos
"My name is Stratos Valios, I am 31 years old. I am a professional football player for the last 14 years and I come from Lesvos. I played most of my career in the Super League of Greece. Two years ago, I decided to return to my island to continue my career with Eolikos, the only local club playing in a national league (Football League 2). At that time, I heard about a new team with refugees players, Cosmos. I was really excited because in my long career, I met many foreign players, all over the world. Last year, we played a friendly game with Cosmos and I was impressed. I was also thinking how difficult it is to live in inhumane conditions and at the same time play with passion as a professional player! At that time, one young Cosmos player, Francis Kalombo, had impressed the president of Eolikos. Since then, the young player became a player for Eolikos. He was welcomed by all of us. Last summer, I heard that Cosmos would partner with Eolikos on a project supported by "UEFA Foundation for Children". For a player like me, it is a big honour to be part of this project, as the captain of Eolikos. Since last August, we have 5 players from Cosmos joining our training, with two of them (Francis and Sekou) playing officially in our team. They became part of our family from the first moment. All together now, we say not to racism in sports. I personally want to say thank you to 'UEFA Foundation for Children". You stayed with your support next to us and next to all those kids, who love football. We keep going on ,all together for a better future for the kids all around the world". – Stratos Valios
2. FutbolNet: Sports, life skills and values for unaccompanied refugee minors
In the context of refugees, unaccompanied minors are children and young people under the age of 18 who make the journey to Europe without family or social support networks. In 2019, there were an estimated 21,000 refugee children in Greek reception and identification centres and accommodation sites, of whom an estimated 3,500 were unaccompanied minors. These children languish in reception and identification centres, protective custody or detention, in shelters for unaccompanied minors or on the waiting list for a shelter. They face a unique set of challenges and are considered to be the most vulnerable of all refugees.
This FutbolNet project proposes to work with unaccompanied minors on the Greek island of Lesbos.
With support from the UEFA foundation, the Barça Foundation will provide a year-long, socio-educational sports programme for unaccompanied refugee minors on the island of Lesbos. The aim of the programme is to create safe spaces to improve the physical and emotional well-being of unaccompanied minors, as well as fostering their social interaction and inclusion. At the heart of the programme is the FutbolNet curriculum, which imparts the FC Barcelona values and life skills through sports and cooperative games.
This project builds on an existing project through which Movement on the Ground provides daily FutbolNet training to children from the Kara Tepe refugee camp and a local school. The UEFA foundation will support Movement on the Ground to enrol 150 unaccompanied minors from Mória in its programme. The UEFA foundation will also support a new NGO, Iliaktida, to start delivering the FutbolNet programme to 45 unaccompanied minors from their centres. To this end, 40 Greek and refugee coaches and educators will be trained in the methodology to equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools to deliver the full curriculum.
- Create safe and appropriate spaces for 195 unaccompanied minors to learn, play and exchange experiences
- Improve the physical and emotional well-being of unaccompanied minors, through improved confidence and self-esteem, and reduced fear and stress
- Foster positive social interactions and social inclusion among unaccompanied minors
- FutbolNet training seminars with Movement on the Ground and Iliaktida staff and volunteers to equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools to deliver the FutbolNet methodology
- FutbolNet programme delivered to unaccompanied minors from Mória at Spanos Academy (Movement on the Ground)
- FutbolNet programme delivered to unaccompanied minors residing in Iliaktida shelters in Mytilíni and at Spanos Academy (Iliaktida)
- Safe, accessible and regularly available spaces to learn, play and exchange
- Strengthened capacity of staff and coaches working with unaccompanied minors
- Communication skills, self-esteem, confidence and values learnt and developed by unaccompanied minors
- Unaccompanied minors participate and feel comfortable in their communities
3. Support for schools: refurbishment of sport facilities
The UEFA Foundation for Children has also decided to support the host country, which is overstretched by the situation, and to support its schools by:
- providing sports equipment and other materials for football and other activities, including balls, bibs, cones, whistles, stopwatches, pumps and foldable goals.
- restoring sport facilities, offering reliable infrastructure and safe facilities for children to play in.
The schools targeted by this last component of the project are primary schools hosting local and refugee children, in order to help build social cohesion among the youngsters.