6 Global Migrant Crisis – Sport Programs for Refugees

Melissa Workman

Sport programs, such as True Sport, have provided a way for refugees to integrate into Canada’s cultural, and social and environment (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2008). Through this program refugees are integrated into a sports environment in which they are able to improve their fitness and social interactions and experience a sense of inclusion. True Sport runs on the notion that an inclusive sports program for refugees, has the ability to make a great difference in their lives, jobs and social experiences in Canada (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2008). This program is guided by seven principles that emphasize fairness, safety, and an inclusive environment (True Sport, 2019). Canada’s goal through this program is to provide refugees with the skills in order to grow stronger through inclusive activities (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2008).

The reason that this program, and many more like it are in place is because of the number of refugees and displaced individuals has been rising in Canada since World War II (The UN Refugee Agency, n.d.). In 2018, Canada resettled 28,000 refugees in one-year (Radford & Connor, 2019). Children, adults, and families are moving from place to place, and home to home in order to avoid conflict and instability in their countries. Factors that drive refugees away from their homes include war, and violence and natural disasters. Fearing for their lives and their families, refugees are displaced all around the world. I think it is important to dedicate a chapter to exploring this global migrant crisis, with a focus on how Canada handles refugees and migration. This chapter will explore the global migrant crisis and will discuss social change initiatives that are working towards mitigating this issue in Canada.

Let’s start off by examining why this crisis is occurring in the first place. One of the contributing factors to the current global migrant crisis is the civil war in Syria. What began as a protest in 2011 quickly transitioned to a war between the Syrian government and the anti-government rebel group (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). With support from Russia and Iran, the Syrian government remained in control against the opposition. More than 400,000 people have been killed to date, since the beginning of the war in 2011 (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). More importantly, 5.5 million people have fled the country, and 6.1 million have been displaced inside Syria since 2011. Due to the continued violence many Syrians have left their country in search of safety and security.

Countries around the world have provided a safe and secure place for Syrian refugees. Canada has been one of these countries. Specifically, Canada has provided a home to 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and February 2016 (Government of Canada, 2020). By mid – 2019, almost 64,000 Syrian refugees had come to Canada (Britten, 2019).

Canada can help Syrian refugees through the In-Canada Asylum Program. Canada can provide protection to refugees that fear persecution or are at risk of being tortured (Government of Canada, 2019). With the help of other companies and associations the Government of Canada is able to provide settlement service to a large number of refugees. The government-assisted refugees are provided with essential services and income support once they arrive to Canada. The goal of doing this is to make settling as a newcomer an easier transition. Up to one year or until the refugee can support themself is how long they will receive income support from the government.

Figure 1. From Syrian Refugee Welcome Reception [Photograph], by Government of Price Edward Island, 2016, Flickr.

Through the Resettlement Assistance Program, Canada is able to provide refugees with finding a place to live, accessing what they need, and referring them to other programs that could potentially help them in their transition to living in Canada (Government of Canada, 2019). On the other hand, private sponsors also provide emotional and financial support through the duration of the sponsorship. This usually takes place until the refugee can support themselves. Furthermore, refugees are provided with language training, job search, community networks and support services such as childcare, transportation, and translation. Refugees can continue to access assistance until they become a Canadian citizen (Government of Canada, 2019).

Syrian refugees deal with disparities and barriers when arriving to Canada (Senate of Canada, 2020). Many struggle to find a job that matches both their interests and their qualifications. Daniel Hiebert, a professor at the University of British Columbia stated, “Immigrants do have to work incredibly hard to find their footing in the Canadian economy” (Cheatham, 2020). In other words, this seems like a cycle; there is a language barrier which prevents a refugee from getting a job that then prevents them from making social connections (Dharssi, 2018). Another contributing factor to the difficulties that a refugee may face is financial worries, which can add to people’s stress and threaten their mental health (Koren, 2015). All of these difficulties can exclude refugees from a successful integration into Canada. There needs to be more work done in regard to what refugees face when entering into Canada.

Amnesty International is an organization that is helping refugees with the language barrier, job security and social exclusion that refugees could potentially face when arriving to Canada (Amnesty International, n.d.). “Amnesty International helps put pressure on the government to take responsibility for protecting and providing for all individuals living in Canada” (Amnesty International, n.d.). This organization does this by proving all citizens, particularly refugees, with accurate and viable information about human rights violations, laws and standards. Louise Simbandumwe is a refugee from Burundi, who now lives in Saskatchewan (Legal, 2011). Due to Amnesty International speaking out for the rights of refugees like her, the transition to Canada is less difficult. Simbanumwe is now an activist for Amnesty International as she is aware of the millions of families that are still trapped and trying to escape. This organization provides a shared commitment to fighting for the rights of all refugees, making it one of the largest human rights movements that demands justice.

As I mentioned above, True Sport is an organization that works to make sure that refugees are provided with the resources to thrive in Canada (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2008). Through the 7-principle approach, it creates a great foundation for improving values such as fairness, excellence, and inclusion (True Sport, 2019). True Sport programs have been known to have a powerful influence on the development of youth. What is nice about True Sport is that it encompasses a large community of leaders that understand the importance of sport (True Sport, 2019). Members through True Sport recognize how sport plays a vital role in the health and social connections for individuals and their communities. The best part is that True Sport is all around Canada, so that all individuals can experience good sport.

Other initiatives in Canada focus on specific barriers that refugees might potentially face when coming to Canada, such as Play ‘n’ Learn, which is a program in Canada’s capital, Ottawa (The Ontario Soccer Association, n.d.). This program works primarily with children, arranging a play and learn platform. Refugee children are “given 30 minutes to play and then 30 minutes to lean about Canadian culture” (The Ontario Soccer Association, n.d.). Similarly, in Saskatchewan, there is a youth transitions program for children from 13-18 years of age, focusing on the combination of inside and outside activities in order to build social skills, learn English, and build life skills (Canadian Pediatric Society, 2020). There is also an initiative for young girls called YIRJAN, which focuses specifically on sports and recreation, as well as personal skills (Canadian Pediatric Society, 2020). This program provides youth with the social inclusion and physiological well-being that are needed for newcomers.

Winnipeg Newcomer Sport Academy is well known for their work in providing sport opportunity for refugees in order to help them find a sense of belonging (CBC News, 2019). This program takes place approximately twice a week. Refugees participate in a variety of sports such as soccer, fencing and skating. According to one of the volunteers with the Winnipeg Newcomer Sport Academy, “it is rewarding to watch children that come from a variety of backgrounds find common ground in which they can build friendships and empower them” (CBC News, 2019).

From these programs both at the more structural level, with the help of Amnesty International, and at a more local practical level through sports initiatives like True Sport, Canada has been able to address some of the issues produced by the global migrant crisis. Refugees are humans fleeing from an area due to war and conflict; they are looking for a new place to call home. Countries such as Canada can help provide newcomers with the resources that they need to survive. Yet, as we saw there are still other barriers that refugees face when coming to Canada. Through sport some of the barriers that refugees face when coming to Canada, such as social exclusion and a language barrier are mitigated. As well, sport help make the transition to Canada less difficult especially for youth. Canada has been able to help refugees build a better life. Through programs at all levels, newcomers have bridges to the culture and way of life in Canada.



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Britten , L. (2019, October 7) Canadians my not be as ‘obsessed’ over immigration this election, but it remains a key issue for parties. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/refugees-2019-election-1.5310154

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (2008, September) What sport can do.The True Sport Report. https://truesportpur.ca/sites/default/files/content/docs/pdf/tsreportenwebdownload1.pdf

Canadian Paediatric Society. (2020, August) Community Resources for Immigrant and Refugee Youth. https://www.kidsnewtocanada.ca/health-promotion/youth-resources

CBC News. (2019, December 30).They can offer so much’: Program empowers newcomers through sport. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-newcomer-sport-academy-1.5411219

Cheatham, A. (2020, August 3) What is Canada’s Immigration Policy? https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-canadas-immigration-policy?gclid=CjwKCAiAnvj9BRA4EiwAuUMDfyvNrqKvIrLeXhv0Th_0XoR_vEYAdwbomgGyv7kVRY–R56aWcrIShoCPGYQAvD_BwE

Council on Foreign Relations (2020) Civil War in Syria. https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/civil-war-syria

Dharssi, A. (2018, March 26) Newsletter: Is Canada doing enough to help refugees? https://thediscourse.ca/sustainability/newsletter-is-canada-doing-enough-to-help-refugees

Government of Canada (2019, November 27) How Canada’s refugee system works. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/canada-role.html

Government of Canada (2020, January 30) Canada’s response to the conflict in Syriahttps://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/response_conflict-reponse_conflits/crisis-crises/conflict_syria-syrie.aspx?lang=eng

Koren, M. The Atlantic (2015, September 1) The Global Refugee Crisis. https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/europe-refugee-crisis-war/403315/ 

Legal, J. (2011, August 10) Louise Simbandumwe, global citizen and human rights advocate. https://canadianimmigrant.ca/people/louise-simbandumwe-global-citizen-and-human-rights-advocate

Radford, J. & Connor, P.(2019, June 19). Canada Now leads the world in refugee resettlement, surpassing the U.S. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/19/canada-now-leads-the-world-in-refugee-resettlement-surpassing-the-u-s/

 Senate of Canada. (2016, December 6). Syrian refugees face new challenges in Canada. https://sencanada.ca/en/sencaplus/news/syrian-refugees-face-new-challenges-in-canada/

True Sport (n.d.) What is True Sport? https://truesportpur.ca/aboutus

The Ontario Soccer Association. (n.d.) New Canadians and Sport: As resource for Grassroots sports.https://cces.ca/sites/default/files/content/docs/pdf/osa_soccer_and_settlement_guide.pdf 

The UN Refugee Agency (n.d.). UNHCR – Global trends 2019: Forced displacement in 2019 https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2019/


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The Ball is in Y(Our) Court: Social Change Through and Beyond Sport Copyright © by The students of KNPE 473 at Queen's University, Fall 2020, edited by Mary Louise Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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