Scoring Goals for Refugee Inclusion in Kenya 

HIAS Kenya organized a refugee soccer game to commemorate World Refugee Day in the Dandara Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya. June 20, 2024. (Kiprono Kemboi/HIAS)

Soccer holds a special place in the hearts of many around the world, but even a game that captivates billions worldwide can feel isolating for refugees, who don’t feel represented by teams back home or in their host country.

That’s why HIAS Kenya, along with the local government of Nairobi and partner organizations UNHCR, IKEA Foundation, International Rescue Committee, and Re:BUiLD decided they would try to change this — one game at a time. To commemorate World Refugee Day this year, they organized a soccer match for young refugees living in Nairobi. The idea of the match was to promote unity, tolerance, cohesion, and integration between young, displaced people and the local community.

“Our team identified serious inclusion gaps in communities across Kenya for refugees, and we realized that football could be a great way to ‘tackle’ this,” said Robinson Mito, legal protection officer for HIAS Kenya.

Refugee participants of the match were from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. They played against a local team of young Kenyans, who also participated in educational and cultural activities to learn more about the importance of welcoming refugees.

"Football is a way that refugees can share the gifts they have with the world"

Emmanuel Banza, Community Mobilizer and Organizer of the Match

Emmanuel Banza*, 40, is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has been living in Kenya since 2015. As a member of a persecuted ethno-linguistic community, he fled from armed groups that killed members of his tribe to Burundi and then Rwanda, before finally arriving in Nairobi.

Banza, now a community mobilizer, helped organize the match. “It’s really important to support young people and to promote youth talent so that they don’t get involved in drugs and crime,” Banza said. “Also, football is a way that refugees can share the gifts they have with the world.”

The game took place in the Dandora Stadium of Nairobi, on the 20th of June. On the day, with the teams tied 2-2, the match went to penalty kicks, which the local team won. Each team received a trophy, and HIAS provided all participants with a voucher prize.

The positive impact on all players, both refugees and local community members, was visible, and all participants learned something new from the experience. HIAS Kenya is now making plans for similar activities and events in the coming months.

“In the future, we’d like to organize matches with refugee women and girls, and also try out other sports such as volleyball and basketball,” said Mito. “We want to create an atmosphere of coexistence and understanding for more people.”


*Participant names have been changed to protect their identity.

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