Asylum seekers from Limerick have been given the opportunity to compete and integrate with members of the local community in a six-week adult football league at University of Limerick Sports Arena.
The tournament, which was set up as a part of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Integration through Football project launched on Friday, November 9, and will be taking place every Friday until December 14 from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Residents of Mount Trenchard, Knocklisheen and Hanratty Direct provision centres, as well as members of Henry Street Garda Station and international football clubs, are participating in this inclusive programme.
Chinazo John Nnaya is the main organiser of this league and said: “The idea really is to bring everybody together. It’s a mixture of people. You have the Gardai team, you have the team from Oman and you have people from within the Direct Provision system.”
Mr Nnaya, who is a former asylum seeker studying to become a sports coach at LIT said that what’s “ most important is that they are smiling here” and he hopes to establish “a network for these guys to be able to integrate them into clubs and for them to play with other clubs”.
He also gave special thanks to Limerick Sports Partnership as they have been playing an important role in this inclusion programme by organising transport and training for the participating asylum seekers.
“We have never had an opportunity like this and we are so glad to be here. This is the first time we are mixing with other people from all different levels like Gardai and students from UL and integrating with everyone,” said Ahmad Achkar, a Palestine native asylum seeker at Mount Trenchard.
Isolation and lack of integration with the community is an issue that has been put forward by both asylum seekers and representative bodies alike because they, for the most part, do not have the right to work and live in isolated centres, which hinders their attempts to integrate into Irish society.
Umair Sheikh, who also seeks asylum and resides at Mount Trenchard said: “For the past three years it’s the first time I got to be part of a group and part of the community and got to meet the Gardai from Henrys Street. The misconceptions we had [of the Garda] are all gone.”
Garda Conor Hynes from Henry Street Garda Station took part in the inclusion programme and said: “It’s breaking barriers, building a relationship with the asylum seekers around the area because it benefits everyone.
“We encourage the communities and surrounding areas in Co. Limerick and Co. Clare to get involved with [asylum seekers]. They are the nicest people you will ever meet and they are more than welcoming,” Gda Hynes added.
The FAI set up the Integration through Football project funded by the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in a bid to embrace collaboration between “diverse backgrounds including refugees, asylum seekers and people from non-European countries, through and in football”.