Refugees are Welcome in Maastricht – The Refugee Sports Day

By Désirée Nothnagel

As we could all follow during the last years and months, the subject of political unrest and disaster in the Middle East circulates frequently on the media. Already for a long time we witness news about families, who have to leave their homes in order to escape from inhuman living conditions and violence. For many of us it is natural to deem these incidents as horrible, however it is also difficult to really imagine how it feels like to experience such an extreme kind of uprooting and to face an uncertain future. As the general terminology demands, these uprooted people are called refugees. The word refugee implies many connotations and numerous of them are deterrent. They are often regarded as help-seeking, poor people with nothing to give, but ready to take from others. Certainly, humans are not known for being unconditionally welcoming, when it comes to strangers, who enter the own micro cosmos. It is said that even the richest, who have the most are reluctant to share their wealth compared to the less wealthy. Why is that? This question is not easy to answer but definitely worth to think about.

The website syrianrefugees.eu explains that an estimated number of 150.000 Syrian Refugees declared asylum within the European Union since the conflict in Syria broke out. Right now in Maastricht there are about 600 Refugees from Syria, who are accommodated in the Asylum Center in Overmaas, which is actually an old prison. It offers the basic needs, such as bedrooms, sanitation, food and shelter. Since the building is a former prison, it is situated in a more industrial area, which impedes the possibility to make contact between the residents of Maastricht and the refugees. Therefore, the Student & Society Initiative (SSI) and the InnBetween introduced the Refugee Project. The plan is to open the way for conversation with the Refugees and to pave the way for new friendships. The emphasis is laid on an integration process, which focuses on the equality between refugees and locals. Moreover, the events organized show refugees that they are welcome and make them come across something new in their daily life for a change.

The Refugee Sports Day is a good example for one of these events. It was organised by Aurelia Streit and Charline Monseur with the help of many motivated volunteers. The event was meant to introduce different sorts of sports and exercise to the refugees, as well as motivate people from Maastricht to become active, have fun and feel how sports can serve as a bridge between cultures. It comprised several activities, such as slack lining, football and yoga, as well as presentations about healthy nutrition and exercise. Throughout all activities, the cultural backgrounds were respected. Especially the presentations were followed with genuine interest. They were translated from Arabic to English and vice versa, and the loose atmosphere often resulted in laughter resounding through the gym hall. “Who wants to be my partner and show the following exercises to the others? Who wants to come to the front?”. Trainer Juan Abeling and Donique May made sure that everyone in the room could participate and that fun remained the first priority. Afterwards, the women could do meditation and yoga, while the men went to play football together.

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In the meantime outside on the lawn, happy children played with self-made rice balloons and jumping ropes, tried to walk over the slack line with the help of volunteering students and were generally curious and excited. The whole team of the Sports Day had all their hands full, but also had much fun. They provided all the toys and sport equipment and made it through the rather complicated hurdle of administration. For the future it is to hope that events like the Sports Day won’t face so many complications due to se   curity measures and supervision to offer them more regularly.

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Nevertheless, the day ended successfully at the football ground next to the Asylum Centre, where the volunteers set up a big stereo, to listen to music, to dance and to chat together. The volunteers could talk with the Syrians and thereby met all different kinds of personalities, such as students, architects, families with babies and retirees. Many delicious Syrian dishes were brought to the park and everyone sat around on blankets to join the picnic in the sun. After a while, the music became louder and the Syrians taught Maastricht’s students how to dance the Kurdish round dance called Dabke, which is more complicated than its look like. As it became darker, groups gathered around Shishas, women and men clapped their hands, played guitar and sang. All in all, the Sports Day was a successful event with a genial atmosphere. It offered the opportunity to connect people from different backgrounds, to share and to show that refugees in Maastricht are welcome.

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