Jack Sugden writes:

On the day that the UK went to the polls in the European elections, the Action for Refuges network (AFR), in partnership with West Lancs CVS, hosted an activities day to welcome old and new refugees resettled in the surrounding areas. A set of friendly football matches were played on the 11-a-side pitch while off field visiting Phd student Matilda Lindburg from Malmo, Sweden, ran a circus skills workshop for those less inclined to 11-a-side.

In total around 30+ local refugees, Edge Hill students and staff played together and enjoyed each-others company on this warm day in May. Collectively we drew upon the potential of sport and physical activity to blur the boundaries of identity through the joy of effort and play.

Happily, the volunteer referees were left with little to do on the field while off it participants shared their lack of experience in, quite literally, jumping through hoops as they enjoyed their circus skills lesson.

The idea of using sport and physical activity for purposes of positive integration is nothing new. But deeper analysis of this day tells a more interesting tale. In all the refugees we invited along, and other participants/volunteers, represented Syria, Iran, Ireland, Eritrea, North and South Sudan, Iraq, Sweden and England. And this highlights that refugee groups not only face well documented issues with joining their new communities, but that within this are issues with getting to know and living side-by-side with each other. In mainstream political and societal discourse it is easier and somewhat lazy to see refugees as a homogeneous group, arriving on a boat, no skills, no English, nothing to offer…Sadly national press, across the political spectrum, regularly perpetuates such stereotypes for a number of reasons, whether it be political gain or just pure laziness. Yet the reality is more nuanced.

The professional and academic profile of migrants is often far more diverse and indeed impressive than media outlets would have us believe. In May our visitors could boast a litany of qualifications in mechanics, architecture, sport science and law etc… and many had been forced away from promising careers to make a fraught journey to our shores. Others were not so lucky, and it is only here and now that they can glimpse an opportunity to reach their potential and make the important contributions that UK craves, consciously or otherwise.

On the day that part of Britain went to the polls, and in part reiterated their demand for a more isolated nation state, such days are crucial. To give such groups a chance to engage with their local community that, due to budget constraints on themselves and their local councils are few and far between. But also, to afford others the opportunity to come out learn their names, their individual stories and to appreciate the nuance in their lives as it connects to the broader context of migration in an interdependent world.
The next activity/welcome day will take place on Edge Hill campus in August. Details to follow.