Everton Football Club and its official charity, Everton in the Community, will be joining football clubs across the country this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to football, as part of a new Amnesty International initiative.
Football Welcomes, a weekend of action for football clubs coordinated by Amnesty, marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of some of the first refugees to play professional football in the country. They were child refugees from the Spanish Civil War, evacuated to the UK after the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937.
Supported by a range of Premier League clubs, the English Football League and the FA Women’s Super League, Football Welcomes also aims to highlight the important role football clubs can play in promoting community cohesion.
Everton in the Community has been delivering high quality football coaching sessions to asylum seekers and refugees since 2015. In partnership with Asylum Link Merseyside and funded by Liverpool Council, over 100 individuals have benefitted from the weekly sessions and the project plays a key role in supporting their relocation to Liverpool and helps to facilitate integration and creating a safe haven for them.
During the length of the programme, Everton in the Community has also hosted information days at Goodison Park for asylum seekers and refugees who have been relocated to Merseyside as well as providing match day experiences and several the participants have been sign-posted onto other programmes delivered by the programme.
Michael Salla, EitC’s Director of Health and Sport, said: "Our asylum seekers and refugee project, funded by Liverpool City Council, has been running for three years and helped over 100 asylum seekers to become more integrated within our community. The weekly football sessions provide an opportunity to engage in high-quality sport sessions that provide physical, mental and social benefits alongside providing an escape from the daily challenges.
“Furthermore, with support from our partners in Asylum Link Merseyside a wider support package is offered including a food bank, clothing, English Language classes, bicycle hire and additional services to help improve quality of life and independence."
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, added: “Refugees have made an important contribution to this much-loved game and to their communities throughout the years. We are delighted that so many football clubs are embracing this. They have a key role to play in helping to promote respect, understanding and integration.
“Eighty years on from the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, horrific violence is again forcing many people to flee their homes, leaving everything behind as they look for safety elsewhere. We’re very pleased to be working with football clubs to help make refugees who have come to the UK feel welcome. This is the first year of Football Welcomes and we’d love it to become a key fixture in the football calendar for years to come.”
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.