As African migrants continue to pour in through Israel's porous border, many try to push them back out again. But some, specifically at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) have been working on ways to improve their lives in Israel.
The ARDC, with the help of UN funding, has begun to hold various sportive events at Levinsky Park, near the central bus station in Tel Aviv. Many migrants gather there to engage in a friendly game of soccer.
The soccer game at Levinsky Park (Photo: Mati Almaliach)
Benjamin Hassan, who runs the center's community services, is a psychotherapist who only just emigrated from Gibraltar. "The new plan comes as a solution for the lack of positive and constructive activities for the refugee community," he said.
The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) has shown interest in the plan, and provided some of the funding. Thanks to the agency, those who made it to the park Wednesday received real soccer training, the likes of which would not shame any professional team.
Coaching the team was Benjamin Kamara, a professional soccer player from the Ivory Coast. "Soccer is a wonderful tool," he said. "It shows Israel's positive side to the refugees and the refugee community's positive side to Israel. On the field everyone can start together from scratch and introduce a new culture of sport rather than violence."
Amy Stinger, who is in charge of volunteers at ARDC, was also present. "Finally the refugees have something to look forward to," she said. "On the field where they sleep at night they played soccer for the first time. For us, this is a great way to reach people we never would have been exposed to otherwise and get to know the problems they face."
One of the players kicking up a storm in Levinsky Park was Mohammed Nasser, a 23-year old refugee from Sudan. "It's a great way to meet new people from different communities and even from Israel," he said.
"The training ahead of the game was hard, but it was a great way to convert the aggression and frustration into sports and fun. Who knows, maybe the next Ronaldinho will come from here?"
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