Mesut Ozil and Per Mertersacker have pledged their ongoing support to Arsenal’s community programme for Syrian refugees along the Jordanian border, where the unfortunate inhabitants have witnessed things which no child or young person should ever have to see.
Fleeing the horrors as the Syrian war erupted in March 2011 has created a displaced population, which now numbers almost 85,000 people at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan alone, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.
That’s a population with the approximate size of a town like Hartlepool.
Escaping the horrors of conflict and violence is unimaginable for most of us. For some however, the reality is painfully familiar. Allied to other support mechanisms however, football is helping to play it’s part in the ongoing healing process.
Ozil visited the Za’atari refugee camp in 2016
In 2016, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil visited the Za’atari refugee camp and took time to play with boys and girls before handing out kit and footballs. The children were inspired by his visit and spoke of their desperate plight not being ignored by the outside world.
Last year, UEFA’s Foundation for Children, the Asian Football Development Project and snacks manufacturer Lay’s unveiled a girls only pitch at Za’atari, having inaugurated their first pitch in 2017. Lionel Messi is shown giving his message of support in a UEFA video.
Ozil’s former Arsenal captain, and Arsenal Academy manager Per Mertersacker launched a new coaching programme in Za’atari in conjunction with the charity Save the Children. The project aims to reach 4,500 boys and girls over three years, consisting of seven coaching modules which run over a 20 week cycle.
Arsenal donated kit and equipment at the Za’atari refugee camp
Speaking at the Za’atari refugee camp, Merterscaker said : “ When children suffer we all lose. People here have fled their country and I have no experience of that, so I talked to them and learnt a lot. It was a privilege for me to visit. The young people I met focus on what is happening now and this project will give them courage to cope with the struggles they face day to day, as well as providing them with the skills to have a better future.”
Mertersacker “learnt a lot,” following his visit to Za’atari refugee camp
For these refugees and many more like them, football has provided a way of communicating and an avenue towards re-building trust. Some have been re-settled in the UK.
On the pitch, they realise that there is a safe place to agree and also disagree. Having experienced the unimaginable horrors of war and displacement, football is helping to regenerate their resilience.
Their patience, their motivation and determination to move forwards have become foundations from which to build on. Football is helping.