The Refuge in Football
Words: Fredrik Clement
Images: Fredrik Clement
In 2016-2017 Fredrik Clement was commissioned by streetfootballworld, a Berlin-based NGO, to document their soccer programs in refugee camps in Europe; The Refugee Support Programme. Streetfootballworld had received funding from the UEFA Foundation for Children, a philanthropic arm of the Union of European Football Associations. As part of the program, there are more than 20 different football-based community projects in refugee camps. He was able to visit camps in Germany, Ireland and Greece, photographing soccer training and matches played by children and young people of many different nationalities.
For me, the project was a profound experience and an emotional and challenging journey. Meeting these men, women and children whose lives have changed dramatically is an experience I will never forget. Playing football gives them a break from a difficult reality and an unknown future that the population outside of these circumstances can only try to understand. So many near imperceptible instances illustrate the ordeal that these people live through day after day.
Many times I was not permitted to photograph at all because the officials didn’t want security fences or other structures and facilities to be visible in the images.
These things are all realities of the refugee camp, yet I was not authorized to show them… I had also planned to record short videos on my iPhone to keep track of names and faces – it seemed like a practical solution – but as I became aware that doing so could likely remind these people of the interrogation process, I very quickly let go of that idea. That was something I needed to avoid completely.
Many of the children in these camps are unaccompanied, and it’s almost impossible to imagine what their life feels like. And yet, something so simple as playing football is as joyful to them as to any other child. Often, they would borrow my camera and take pictures or look at my photos. Somehow it seemed like it made them felt seen – which is something that really resonates when you are free to leave a camp and come back home and to hug your kids before you send them off to school for the day. Within this perspective, you begin to see exactly how invisible places like these camps, and the people within them, are made to be.
You can help bring visibility and make a difference to the lives of the young athletes and families in these camps by directly donating to streetfootballworld or to organizations such as the UEFA Foundation for Children