Sixty football clubs, including 26 from the EFL, as well as players and celebrity fans are supporting Amnesty International’s second Football Welcomes initiative this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees make to football.
EFL clubs including Fulham, Portsmouth and Notts County will be opening their doors to refugees and people seeking asylum living locally, arranging player visits, stadium tours and organising matches in their community.
In Norfolk, school children have sent questions to Norwich City midfielder Mario Vrancic for a video interview about his family’s experience of fleeing Bosnia when the Balkan conflict erupted in the early 90s.
Football Welcomes, a weekend of action now in its second year, highlights the role of refugee players in UK football - from a group of Spanish Civil War child refugees who sailed from Bilbao to Southampton in May 1937 and went on to play professionally here in the 1940s and 50s, to the likes of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim today.
The Kaiser Chiefs, who are also Leeds United fans, said: “It is a pleasure to be involved with Football Welcomes again. Football is an international language that almost everyone connects with. Last year we had a lot of clubs involved, whether it was organising a training session, a game for refugees or simply tickets to a match. It meant so much to the lives of the refugees and people seeking asylum who took part.”
Shaun Harvey, EFL Chief Executive, said: “The EFL is once again proud to be supporting Amnesty International's Football Welcomes campaign which champions the lasting contribution refugees have made across our professional game.
“EFL clubs are at the heart of 72 communities across England and Wales and play a vital role in promoting integration, so I’m delighted to see so many showing their support and extending a warm welcome to refugees.”
Naomi Westland, Football Welcomes Manager at Amnesty International UK added: “We are delighted that the EFL are taking part in Football Welcomes this year. With so many clubs across the country participating, the message from football is clear - refugees are welcome in the UK. At a time when hate-filled rhetoric so often fills our newspapers and social media timelines, this shows that there is another story to be told.
“Violence and persecution around the world are forcing people to flee their homes and look for safety in communities elsewhere, and a small number make it to the UK. Football can give people a sense of purpose and belonging, and football clubs are at the heart of our towns and cities and have an important role to play in welcoming refugees and helping to promote respect, understanding and integration.”
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.