What is your name and home field location?
We are the refugee team. We are refugees who arrived in Philadelphia within the last two years (most have arrived in the last year). The team is supported by Nationalities Service Center (NSC), which is using this process to teach each team member how to engage with the City and organize a team. NSC’s hope is that our team members will begin organizing the youth from our respective ethnic communities to create soccer teams and practice together.
Finding a home field location has been a challenge. Refugees are placed in neighborhoods in Philadelphia where we will have access to places of worship, ethnic food, and transportation lines to reach available jobs. Refugees on our team live in the Northeast and South Philadelphia and rely mostly on public transportation to get around. We have two coaches (one Iraqi and one from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) who lead the team to practice during the week in their neighborhoods and at Penn Park on weekends. Our Iraqi coach leads practice in the Northeast. We are all working, having accepted our first jobs in the US, and are working to schedule practices around our work schedules (most working overnight).
What is your connection to your countries of origin?
Members of our team arrived in the US as refugees and are working to make Philadelphia our new home. We were born in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We fled our countries because of civil war and persecution. We sought refuge in refugee camps and urban slums. We applied to the US Refugee Admission Program, and after undergoing interviews with the UN, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Refugee Support Center staff, submitting to a medical check and security screenings, and participating in cultural orientation, we were admitted to the US. Most of us arrived in Philadelphia first with the help of NSC. Some of us arrived in other cities and moved to Philadelphia to be closer to family.
Note: Team members arrived in the US as refugees or Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, meaning they served with US forces or contractors until their lives were threatened because of their involvement with the US government.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
Given the current national debate surrounding refugees, we are hoping that through friendly competition we can address fear and concerns about refugees being welcomed in our communities and raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. Also, the current debate has left refugees feeling vulnerable and that perhaps we are not wanted in our new communities. We are hoping that through this effort, our team members, families, and refugee communities will see that they are welcomed and wanted in our city.
How did your team come together?
We are 23 players and two coaches. Our coaches are an SIV from Iraq (coached with the Iraqi national team) and a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (coached refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya; players hailed from nine different countries). Player profiles are being developed.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
Refugees flee their homes with little planning and often are able to bring little with them. We did not travel with our soccer gear but we love sharing our stories of days playing soccer in our countries of origin and in refugee camps, and our desire to play in Philadelphia.
What does soccer mean to your community?
We were inspired by the Refugee Team that competed in the US Summer Olympics and the teams that competed in last year’s Unity Cup that were largely composed of players who arrived in the US as refugees. The coach of the Thailand team was a refugee resettled by NSC in 2007 who, soon after his arrival, began organizing his community to practice and play together. Those activities helped the players learn about their new community and offered them a safe place to recreate and build community. Soccer supported their integration into the larger community. We hope that refugees on this team will be afforded the same opportunity.