The Refugee XI celebrates the presence and contribution of refugees to Europe and show how football can break down barriers to integration. All of the players listed are refugees, or the children of refugees, playing for clubs in eight European football leagues.
Piara Powar, Executive Director of Fare, said, “These are some of Europe’s best players, we think if they were playing together as a team they would be in contention to win most European leagues and be comfortable in the Champions League. Our wider point is that refugees contribute to every aspect of life in European life, we stand together with them to celebrate and defend their presence amongst us.”
Amongst this year’s XI is the Liverpool and Croatia defender Dejan Lovren, who earlier this year recounted the horrors that shaped his childhood as a refugee from the Bosnian war:
“When I see what’s happening today [with refugees] I just remember my thing, my family and how people don’t want you in their country. I understand people want to protect themselves, but people don’t have homes. It’s not their fault, they’re fighting for their lives just to save their kids. I went through all this and I know what some families are going through. Give them a chance,” said the 27 year-old in ‘Lovren – My life as a refugee’.
The stories of the Refugee XI
The refugee XI are currently playing in the English Premier League, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, Norwegian Eliteserien, Russian Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Turkish Super Lig.
Steven Mandanda, Crystal Palace, France
Mandanda and his family were forced to leave Kinshasa in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko, and migrated to Liege in Belgium.
Victor Moses, Chelsea, Nigeria
Moses was raised in Kaduna, Nigeria. His father and mother were attacked in their home and killed when riots swept in 2002. He was told of the news when playing football in the street, before being sent to England where he was taken in by foster parents in south London.
Dejan Lovren, Liverpool, Croatia
Lovren and his family had to flee their home in Kraljeva Sutjeska, former Yugoslavia, when a civil war broke out that ended with more than 100,000 dead.
Neven Subotić, Borussia Dortmund, Serbia
As a child Neven and his family fled to Germany before the civil war in former Yugoslavia. At the age of 11 he moved with his family to the United States, where he played for the IMG Soccer academy before signing for FSV Maiz 05 in 2006.
Liban Abdi, FK Haugesund
Abdi is one of the first Somali-heritage players to become professional in Europe. He moved to Norway when he was two-years-old to escape civil war in Somalia, then to England where he was picked up by Sheffield United thanks to the help of Football Unites, Racism Divides, he has also played for Ferencváros and Olhanense in Portugal.
Luka Modrić, Real Madrid, Croatia
As a child Modrić was forced to flee his hometown Zadar in the former Yugoslavia, with his family living in hostels during the Croatian war of independence in the early 90s.
Miralem Pjanić, Juventus, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Pjanić developed an interest in football through his father, a former third division footballer in Yugoslavia, and began his career in Luxembourg following his family’s arrival to the country shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian War.
Granit Xhaka, Arsenal, Switzerland
Xhaka was born in Basel to Kosovo Albanian parents. His family moved from Kosovo Podujeve to Switzerland shortly before he and his brother were born.
Mahmoud Dahoud, Borussia Dortmund, Germany U21
In 1996 the Dahoud family fled Syria from the Kurdish town of Amuda with ten-month-old Mahmoud in the first wave of refuges from that country. He joined Borussia Mönchengladbach as a youth player and is thought to be the first Syrian to play in the Bundesliga.
Saido Berahino, Stoke City, England U21
Beharino grew up in Burundi and lost his father in the Civil War. He left the country in the hope of a better life and although was separated from his mother for two years, he eventually made it to the UK.
Christian Benteke, Crystal Palace, Belgium
Benteke was born in Zaire (now known as the Democratic of Republic of Congo) but aged two, he was relocated by his parents to Liege, Belgium, due to political unrest in the African nation.
Vedad Ibišević, Hertha Berlin, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Ibišević was born and raised in Vlasenica in Eastern Bosnia, where he lived until 2000. His family fled to Switzerland and then to the United States where he went on to start his career and signed to play college soccer for St Louis University.
Rio Mavuba, Lille, France
He was born on board a boat in international waters during the the Angolan Civil War, and later stated that his birth certificate did not have a nationality on it, reading only “born at sea”. He received French nationality in September 2004.
Vedran Ćorluka, Lokomotiv Moscow, Croatia
Born in former Yugoslavia, Ćorluka moved to Zagreb in 1992 due to the war in Bosnia.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City, Switzerland
Born in Gjilan, Kosovo, to Kosovar Albanian parents. He moved to Switzerland in 1992 during the civil war.
Lomana LuaLua, Şanlıurfaspor (Turkey), Congo
Born in Kinshasa former Zaire, he moved to the east end of London in 1980 as a refugee.