From September 15th to September 23rd a deligation of the FC St. Pauli and the NGO Projekt Seehilfe e.V. went to Syrakus to meet with about 50 refugees, give them football coaching and bring some structure and fun into their daily lives. But most importantly they wanted to bring together the local youth and the refugees.
In the church of Padre Carlo live about 15 refugees right now, sometimes there are up to 30. In Italy refugee camps with containers or tents don’t exist. Most of the stranded refugees will get five minutes at the migration office. In those five minutes the local authorities make their decision if the person can stay or has to leave the country within seven days. Most of the fleeing people get rejected. They land on the streets, with no money and option to leave the country. Some of them end up in jail, some start committing crimes to survive, some get recruited by local farmers, who pay them 2€ a day and after the harvest call the police to have the illegal workers arrested.
Thankfully there are a few exceptions like Padre Carlo. They privately take in refugees, try to get them work – real work, not field work – and build a community. Every night there is a big dinner which is cooked together and eaten together. Throughout the day the church is a public meeting point where everyone in town stops by.
A few football clubs already exist in Syrakus, like CSI Siracusa (Centro Sportivo Italiano). This club is has been making efforts to support socially disadvantaged children and adloscents for a long time. They invited FC St. Pauli to use their facilities to coach a tram of refugees.
A lot of the young men who are staying with Padre Carlo have been playing football at home and have also tried to do so in Sicily. But they were confronted with unacceptance, partly racism and mostly didn’t have gear (no shoes, no jerseys, no ball) to actually be able to properly play.
All these matters: the fear of getting caught and send back home or to prison, a dull daily life, unacceptance or even fear by the locals (in big parts) and no options of integrating themselves, led to one of the goals of the deligation of FCSP and Seehilfe: break through these thoughts, bring some fun and variety into the lives of these people. And of course integrate them in the lives of the locals.
With the organisatory help of CSI and the three Young Rascal trainers of FCSP who joined this journey, training sessions could be held for 5 days. FCSP brought jerseys and shoes for those who didn’t have any.
After the second day you could already see the progression in their technique and strategies, but more importantly Syrakus‘ youth and the refugees were playing together as a team – all the fear ofeach other has vanished. For most of the guys this also meant to be accepted for something, to be able to show that they are good in something that they are able to commit and work for something. It also meant that they were finally treated like anyone else.
In the end the team of organizers was able to put together a small tournament. Four clubs from Sicily joined the tournament, all of these four clubs train on a regular bases and were teams who played in one of the lower men’s leagues in Italy.
The team FCSP and CSI put together, almost completely formed of refugees, did an amazing job! They didn’t lose a single game. Won the whole tournament (on the last day of this trip), with a goal even Zlatan Ibrahimovic could not have done better!
It was a happy ending to a successfull trip of helping hands. One of the men who lives with Padre Carlo said, after these five days that this was the first time he felt treated like a normal person again since he has fled his country.
Everyone celebrated this night. But everyone could also feel that it was the end of something. A lot wondered what will happen now? Was this just a small escape from reality for a few days? Or is this going to last?
Since CSI is determined to find a spot for this team in their club and help them with regular training sessions and to also integrate them in the league system, the future is looking bright at least on the football side. Also, Projekt Seehilfe e.V. is already planning another trip for next spring to see how everything has evolved and to help with new refugees.
FCSP will keep on supporting the refugees with material and hopefully can come back again soon, too.