In 2016, 6,447 unaccompanied refugee children, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, applied for asylum in Bulgaria. With the adoption of a new law on foreigners that came into force in 2017, the temporary detention of children, including unaccompanied and separated children, was legalised, contrary to international human rights standards. Children applying for asylum were moved to refugee centres, where they lived in the same space as adults and faced a huge risk of violence and abuse.
In 2017, World at Play was invited by Caritas Bulgaria, part of the Caritas international aid organisation, to work on a programme to support and integrate refugee children and young people in the Harmanli and Soﬁa areas.
During a preliminary fact-finding project, it quickly became evident that there were tensions between the refugees and local communities. The local population itself faced difficulties related to low incomes and a lack of opportunities and felt excluded and marginalised due to an increased focus on refugees.
World at Play started to build relationships between young locals and young refugees. Initially working with them in separate groups, it then started integrating them into each other’s games and showed how, through the power of sport and play, individuals can engage with one another with respect and care as equals, regardless of gender, ethnicity and background.
World at Play believes that access to sport, and the freedom to play without fear, prejudice or intimidation, is an integral part of every childhood.
World at Play has been running specially designed sport and play programmes since 2004. Its games – often requiring little or no equipment – rely on specially selected coaches and trainers who have been extensively trained to:
- work with children and young people who have experienced trauma and conflict;
- work with marginalised children and ostracised communities;
- work with children who have suffered abuse and physical or emotional violence
- work with disabled children and young people.
World at Play primarily uses common, well-known games and sports such as football, hockey, frisbee, cricket and baseball, but it has a handbook of nearly 150 games that enable children to be active and have fun while also learning about teamwork, cooperation, inclusion, support, gender equality and communication.
Caritas Bulgaria is directly involved in World at Play activities as a local partner of the Harmanli refugee centre and the Voenna Rampa and Ovcha Kupel refugee centres in Sofia. Their staff and volunteers are trained to deliver World at Play programmes.
- To improve the lives of vulnerable children in society, e.g. socially underprivileged children, Roma communities, disabled children and unaccompanied refugee children
- To promote gender equality in communities where females are often treated unfairly
- To use games to promote teamwork
- To strengthen academic knowledge, particularly language skills, through play
- To encourage participation of young refugee victims of trauma, using sport and cricket as a starting point to engage with them, lift them out of depression and find common ground to work from
- To use music therapy in rehabilitation centres to improve the self-confidence of disabled children
- Sport and play sessions for refugees from a diverse range of backgrounds
- Inclusive play sessions that emphasise gender equality
- Skill development sessions for community leaders within the refugee camp
- Donation of equipment to ensure sessions are sustainable
- Individual engagement and respect will be fostered between the different communities, regardless of gender and heritage.
- Physical activities will benefit health and well-being.
- Partner organisation staff will develop their sports coaching skills and be empowered to deliver future sessions in order to make the project sustainable.
- Individuals who have faced barriers to participation in the past will be welcome at sessions as equals, in line with long-established World at Play principles.
- Over 100 male and 35 female participants will attend World at Play sessions.