Integration of Refugees Through Sport Networking Platform
The project in brief
International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), Denmark
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and UK
- June 2016 (first Nordplus grant)
- January 2020 (current project).
The project is due to be completed in December 2022.
The IRTS Networking Platform aims to empower people working or volunteering in integration of refugees through sport roles by offering in-person and online opportunities to meet, learn, gain recognition for their initiatives and connect with high profile humanitarian organisations. It builds on ISCA’s experience and outcomes from 3 earlier EU-supported projects. The current project is co-financed by the European Commission under its ‘EAC Sport as a Tool for Integration’ funding stream.
ISCA saw a pressing need right on its doorstep in 2015, when Denmark (where ISCA’s headquarters are located) and its fellow Nordic countries were faced with one of the biggest political and practical challenges of the decade. We witnessed Nordic countries applying different strategies to receiving and accommodating an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa, causing tension and confusion between the countries.
The way we could help in our field was to gather sport and community organisations from the Nordic countries to look into and collaborate on ways in which sport and physical activity could be used as tools to welcome and integrate refugees. We received two grants in 2016 – from NordPlus and the EU’s Erasmus+ KA2 stream – and the momentum continued to a larger Erasmus+ Collaborative Partnership (MOVE Beyond) and now to a network encompassing 70 EC-funded initiatives from 20 countries (the IRTS Networking Platform at irts.isca.org).
Different approaches we have used from the first project to the current project include:
- Research and mapping of initiatives that aim for inclusion or integration of refugees through sport (IRTS) and physical activity
- Focus groups with refugees and asylum seekers
- Developing online training courses with professionals working in the field
- Facilitating the formation of partnerships between sport and humanitarian organisations
- Advocacy campaigns and policy recommendations to raise awareness of the benefits of using sport for refugee inclusion
- A mentoring programme to pair more experienced and less experienced people who specialise in IRTS for 12 months of professional development
- Conferences, in-person and online meetings to bring the network together
- An awards scheme to recognise best practice in the field (coming in 2021)
Main activities of the Good Practice
The first resources the IRTS partners developed together were a database of good practices, a peer-to-peer guide to working with refugees, an Implementation Guide for Integration of Refugees Through Sport, three advocacy videos and an introductory online course on the topic.
The approach of the MOVE Beyond project was to literally “move beyond” this background or desk research and start implementing new initiatives created by sport and humanitarian partnerships in four countries. The partners piloted four actions that aimed to overcome barriers preventing asylum seekers and refugees from getting involved in community sport or other local activities. The outcomes of the project include recommendations gathered from a broad stakeholder consultation, a guide to organising focus groups with refugees, four podcasts, two advocacy videos and recommendations from the partners, as well as the initiatives themselves, which will continue after the project.
ISCA’s IRTS Networking Platform started with a mapping of all EU projects focusing on integration of refuges through sport. The network is now gathering the lead organisations of these projects to form a more integrated network that allows them to meet each other in person and online, work together in a mentor-mentee professional development programme and learn together with an additional three online courses that build on our introductory course.
IRTS Networking Platform website irts.isca.org and ISCA’s Online Learning Platform learn.isca.org are designed as hubs to keep building on these initiatives and grow the network in the future.
There are over 70 partners and stakeholders involved in ISCA’s IRTS Network. You can see the full list here:
Challenges and how they were overcome
Main challenge 1:
It was immediately evident from the groundwork done with our Nordic partners of our first project, including an asylum centre-based programme in Denmark, that sport by itself is not a magic tool for integration. A great deal of thought needs to go into the types of sport and physical activities that clubs or social organisations (and often individuals) provide for refugees and asylum seekers.
Refugees may be missing sports from their home countries like football or cricket, but high arousal, competitive sports may not be suitable for refugees who are still experiencing intense trauma or conflict. Therefore, physical activity in a broader sense can be used more effectively at first as a tool for relaxation, training language skills and establishing positive social contact in a new community.
Main challenge 2:
The MOVE Beyond project partners carefully considered potential risks before starting their pilot activities with refugees in 2019. But none of them could have anticipated a global pandemic, lockdowns and the challenge of having to move their work online.
Two of the MOVE Beyond partner pairs are based in two of Europe’s worst hit countries during the pandemic, Italy and the UK. Both had to put their activities on hold but have remained in frequent contact with the refugee participants online. Later lockdowns in Denmark and Sweden also forced the organisers to cancel or postpone some of the activities.
How they were overcome
Two examples from the Integration of Refugees Through Sport: MOVE Beyond project best illustrate how our partners overcame the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Northern Italian partners UISP Trentino and ATAS experienced an abrupt stop to the football league where their mixed team of Italians, migrants and asylum seekers, Intrecciante, play their matches. So during the lockdown, the players shared videos of them teaching football tricks and cooking dishes from their homelands online with the local community in Trento.
We wanted to give a positive message of social inclusion and to keep the relationship with the whole society despite the Covid-19 emergency.
- Cristina Brezzi from ATAS Trentino
The pilot project in the UK, organised by SPARC, Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support (DCRS) and StreetGames, had just started to take off when all of the community was forced inside. The activities were designed to help the refugees and asylum seekers get around outside with bikes, city and nature walks and swimming, so could not continue indoors – with the experience of isolation and restriction being amplified and having heartrending consequences for the group.
Exercise groups were not allowed, but cycling and active transport for individuals boomed during lockdown. So they established a local partnership with BikeSpace, a non-profit bike shop that receives bicycle donations and trains vulnerable youth in the community to repair them for sale. As part of the pilot, many of the bicycles have been donated further to the refugees and asylum seekers supported by DCRS.
“The best example we can give [from our pilot] is the bicycle project we came up with where we managed to match a service user, who at the time was still an asylum seeker and had previous training as a mechanic, with a need of lots of people to get around. Asylum seekers in the UK don’t have the financial means to buy bus tickets daily and getting from one place to another is extremely difficult,” Suvi Rehell from DCRS says.
The bicycle project was a successful example of putting together new ideas, existing initiatives and skills of refugees and asylum seekers to get more people active – both physically and in their surroundings. The bicycle repair shop reopened at the beginning of June so the bike scheme was the first of their activities to continue after lockdown.
Results of the Good Practice
- We are mainly focusing on building the capacities of our project partners (who work directly with refugees and asylum seekers) to tailor their programmes better to meet the needs of the target group. Below are 3 examples of direct impact on the target group through the MOVE Beyond project.
- Save the Children and RF-SISU trained refugees to organise their own sports activities in Sweden (podcast 1): https://irts.isca.org/updates/podcast-sweden/
- UISP and ATAS started a football team consisting of asylum seekers and Italians to connect asylum seekers with their new communities and create opportunities for them to socialise, learn Italian and raise awareness about integration in Trento (podcast 2): https://irts.isca.org/updates/podcast-italy/
- StreetGames, SPARC and Devon & Cornwall Refugee Support started a project to help refugees and asylum seekers access different means of active transport and socialise in walking and swimming groups (podcast 3): https://irts.isca.org/updates/podcast-sustainable-activities/
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
We are promoting the Swedish example from the MOVE Beyond project in a series of recommendations that encourages sport and humanitarian organisations to empower refugees and asylum seekers by inviting them to organise or co-create their own recreational activities.
Save the Children and RF-SISU’s approach involved consulting refugees at an asylum centre in Vänersborg as stakeholders – not just the recipients – of the activities, appointing four pairs as leaders of four pilot activities, and offering their developed activity ideas to local clubs. They held a training course for the leaders and formalised their role as Intercultural Coordinators of Physical Activity (ICPAs).
They hoped this would help “connect sports clubs to the refugees in the right way and with the right intercultural understanding”, putting the emphasis on how welcoming refugees as members or participants who can benefit the clubs rather than straining their resources.
It has been a successful approach that saw eight refugees self-organise their own sports activities (including online yoga classes) throughout the lockdown period in 2020.
The IRTS Networking Platform project will continue until December 2022.
The following activities are planned from 2020-2022:
Mentoring programme: Connecting people who have experience in running IRTS initiatives with those who are just starting out, or are looking for some advice to make a bigger impact. (Next call in 2021)
Award scheme: Recognising initiatives and partnerships that have made an impact in their communities. (coming in 2021)
Online courses: 3 new online courses will equip solution-providers with tested approaches, expert and peer-to-peer tips from the field, and avenues to support and funding. (first course coming in November 2020, second in 2021 and the third in 2022)
Events: In October 2021, we want to deliver the biggest stakeholder congress so far for Integration of Refugees Though Sport in the context of the MOVE Congress: www.movecongress.com . This will be followed by a promotional event in 2022.
Further support required for the project to continue or scale up
We hope that more organisations will join the network by applying to be part of the mentoring programme, for an award and/or joining us at the MOVE Congress in 2021.