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Play4Africa arrives in Pretoria bearing gifts and support for refugees

News Stories, 28 June 2010

© UNHCR/U.Reungsuwan
Spain's Secretary of Sports Jaime Lissavetzky hands a footballer balls and boots donated by Play4Africa .

PRETORIA, South Africa, June 28 (UNHCR) The Play4Africa initiative has handed over 2,000 footballs and 4,000 pairs of football boots to UNHCR's Pretoria office after completing a four-month road trip from Spain to South Africa.

An eight-vehicle convoy organized by the Spanish-based initiative left the port of Almeira on March 7 at the start of a journey to raise awareness about some of the key problems facing millions of young Africans, including poverty, infant mortality, lack of sports opportunities, disease, especially HIV and AIDS, malaria and water-borne diseases and to reinforce their "right to play."

They arrived in Pretoria last Friday in time to visit the UNHCR office and then catch Spain's crucial 2-1 win over Chile in the group stages of the World Cup football finals. The aid donated by Play4Africa will be used to support UNHCR programmes in South Africa, including efforts to counter xenophobia.

On Saturday, the Play4Africa team gave direct support to one such initiative by attending a Peace Cup football match in Attridgeville township, 10 kilometres from Pretoria. The event was organized by the community based Xaveri Movement and funded by Caritas.

The visitors, including Spanish Secretary of State for Sports Jaime Lissavetzky and Jorge Carreto, president of the Spanish Football Association, which has also been supporting Play4Africa, were welcomed by some of the refugees and South Africans playing in the tournament, which has coincided with the World Cup.

"The intention of the Peace Cup is to bring together members of the local community and the refugees to promote social cohesion," explained Martin Mande, a Congolese refugee and community organizer. "The World Cup happens every four years, but the Peace Cup will take place every year."

Stevens Mohlala, a local councillor, noted that Attridgeville was among the townships affected when a wave of xenophobic violence swept the country in May 2008, leaving dozens dead and forcing thousands of foreigners, including refugees and asylum-seekers, to flee their homes. "We are proactively trying to bring our community members together so it won't happen again," he said.

Sanda Kimbimbi, UNHCR's regional representative for southern Africa, said the refugee agency supported community initiatives such as the Peace Cup in place like Attridgeville, "because we want to encourage coexistence."

Alvin Omari, who fled conflict in Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that taking part in the Peace Cup "gives us a chance to meet with our South African brothers and sisters so they can see we are not a threat but want to live in peace, just like them."

The shoes and balls and other equipment donated to UNHCR by Play4Africa will be distributed to the Peace Cup as well as other community-based programmes, schools and shelters that provide assistance and support to refugees throughout South Africa. Play4Africa also handed out sports kit and mosquito nets to vulnerable Africans, including refugees and the internally displaced, in more than a dozen countries.

By Tina Ghelli in Pretoria, South Africa

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Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

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South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.

But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.

Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.

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In March 2011, UNHCR initiated a project with the South African non-governmental organization, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), to tackle the issue of statelessness. The specific goals of the project were to provide direct legal services to stateless people and those at risk of statelessness; to engage government on the need for legal reform to prevent and reduce statelessness; to raise awareness about stateless people and their rights; and to advocate for the ratification of the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions on statelessness.

LHR had conceived the project a year earlier after noticing that large numbers of Zimbabwean-born asylum-seekers were telling its staff that they faced problems getting jobs, studying or setting up businesses - all allowed under South African law. They told LHR that when they applied for Zimbabwean passports, necessary to access these rights, they were informed by consular officials that they were no longer recognized as Zimbabwean citizens. This effectively made them stateless.

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The following photo set portrays some of the people who have been, or are being, helped by the project. The portraits were taken by photographer Daniel Boshoff. Some of the subjects asked that their names be changed.

South Africa's Invisible People

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A Syrian refugee, once a national player, revives his dream of playing and coaching football.
Ethiopia: All AlonePlay video

Ethiopia: All Alone

Kicking a football around, they seem carefree and happy. But these children are refugees, many of them unaccompanied, and they face a host of problems.
Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South AfricaPlay video

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South Africa

Living in Pretoria as a refugee or asylum-seeker is challenging. Most either live rough on the streets or in cramped apartments in townships. There are also tensions with locals because of the perception that foreigners get a better deal than South African citizens.