When over half of all refugees are children, sport must reACT
20 June is the UN International Refugee Day. This is not a celebration, of course, but rather a day to raise awareness and drive change to improve the situation. This year, the day may not have created much buzz on social media or mainstream news platforms, but the release of the latest UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report should have raised a huge global alarm. The report underlines the colossal challenge ahead of us and paints through statistics the tragic reality that worldwide displacement has hit an all-time high as war and persecution increase. The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 rose to a staggering 59.5 million – the highest level ever recorded.
This alarming reality does not stop there: the report tries to translate the numbers in an accessible way for us to understand stating that, globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. They then compared this to the population of a country and the number reached would constitute the world’s 24th biggest nation. As if these rising numbers are not shocking enough, here is the piece of information that makes me believe we cannot be indifferent and that sport has a role to play: over half of all refugees are children.
Since autumn 2014, Dr. Jacques Rogge, former President of the International Olympic Committee, has occupied the role of UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Youth Refugees. Last October, Dr. Rogge visited the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan and in May this year, South Sudanese refugees in western Ethiopia. During these visits he acknowledged that sport really had a role to play and committed to the cause.
Rogge needs the support of the international community to get this message across. I know that there are organizations working with and using sport – the Refugee Council of Australia for example, and I have also heard of organizations in the UK, South Africa and Canada. We must join forces. This year, during the Peace and Sport International Forum we will tackle this pressing issue head-on in order to not just raise awareness, but to create synergies of individuals willing to underpin change in this field.
Sport is a great tool to build identity and social competencies. As the Peace and Sport Adapted Sport Manual promotes, we must go beyond providing equipment; we must train people to adapt the game to their local environment so they can be autonomous and transmit their knowledge to others in refugee camps. And most importantly we must bring sport to communities in an accessible way, with limited need for resources and the use of local, freely available resources. This approach would not only give the young people ownership of different sports but most importantly build their creativity within the camps so that they would start to see the camps differently, as a resource to start building. And this is what we must invest in: ensuring they keep believing and hoping, so that they can develop their competencies to develop themselves.