ERITREA Breaking News

Unity EURO Cup: Refugees and locals team up to represent Northern Ireland in Germany

Team ambassador and Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl was there to cheer on the players as they battled it out against 15 other teams for the trophy.

In what was their first time at an international football event, the team played their hearts out but fell short of making it beyond the group stages.

Finland took the cup in a 2-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland.

The tournament was organised by Uefa and the United Nations Refugee Agency to support refugee access to sport and raise awareness of the power of football.

The players are all members of a Uefa refugee grant scheme delivered by the Irish Football Association Foundation in partnership with the Belfast charity Multi-Ethnic Sports and Cultures NI (MSCNI), which was set up by Spirit of Northern Ireland winner Jahswill Emmanuel.

While the team lost out to Malta, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland in the group rounds, they shone against Belgium, one of the favourites, winning 4-1.

Jahswill said everyone had worked their socks off. He added: “It was a massive opportunity for our refugees, and history was made as it was the first time for Northern Ireland to compete in the tournament.

Jahswill Emmanuel with one of the Finland players

“The team of eight consisted of one female player from Eritrea, players from Sudan, Ghana and Syria and three local players.

“We displayed excellent football skills and a winning spirit, but unfortunately our team did not get to pass the group stages.

“But it is not always about winning but bringing refugees and local host communities from across the globe together to unify them, build relationships and reconnect with fellow displaced people from their previous countries.

“For the refugees, it was a once-in-a lifetime experience to represent Northern Ireland at a big international football tournament.

“It gave a sense of belonging to us as ethnic minorities.

“For the players, it was also a chance to give something back to the society that has accepted them.

“It was a great experience for the team as a whole, playing alongside other countries.

“Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. We will reflect moving forward and can only get better and better.”

Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl and Jahswill (back row) with Kirsty Cameron, Mary Edonga and Ehasn Ranjbar

Former international referee Felix Brych, who took charge of the 2017 Uefa Champions League final, officiated at the tournament’s final in the DFB Campus in Frankfurt.

He said: “The Unity Euro Cup connects people and nations and creates a positive atmosphere, even in difficult times.

“On the pitch, everyone is equal, and everyone plays by the same rules.

“Being a part of this tournament means a lot to me. It was a great honour.”

For Jahswill, who has dedicated his life to combating racism and integrating ethnic minorities with the local community, it was a huge moment.

He said: “We met a lot of personalities, including Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, who said we should be telling the world that refugees are normal people like us, that they can work as professionals, play football and achieve and contribute to society like everyone else.

“This was an incredible opportunity for our team, and we would like to say a massive thank you to Uefa, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Irish FA Foundation for the wonderful opportunities extended to our refugees in Northern Ireland.

“We would also like to thank all of our volunteers, teammates and coaches, including head coach Andy Hardy and our excellent ambassador, Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl.”

The squad and staff in Germany

MSCNI is a delivery partner for the Irish FA Foundation and McDonald’s Fun Football project, working alongside Malcolm Robert, a regional development officer with the foundation.

The aim of the scheme is to encourage children aged five to 11 to have fun while having a go at football.

The charity is currently delivering a four-week initiative for 24 children in the Willowbank area of west Belfast to help refugees and asylum seekers feel a sense of belonging in their new home.

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