Refugees play on Red Square with a message of inclusion05 July 2018

As2018WorldCupreacheditsfinalstages,therealityfacedbyrefugeesinRussiatookcentrestageinRedSquarethroughafootballtournamentorganisedbytheFarenetworkandtheRussianCivicAssistanceCommittee.

At the walls of the Kremlin refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Ivory coast played alongside Russians and international fans, joined by Alexey Smertin, former Russian international midfielder.

Traoere Kadjale, 27, from Ivory Coast, said: “We have never done this. Since we arrived in Russia, it’s the first time that we were invited to play football. We are asking Russia to give us an opportunity.”

Russia’s contribution to meeting the needs of refugees has been criticised by the international community and human rights organisations. Despite their role in the civil war, only two Syrians have been given refugee status in Russia. A total of 1,300 refugees have received temporary asylum.

The tournament celebrated the contribution of refugees and the support of civil society organisations in Russia.

Julius Ezang, a refugee from Cameroon, said: “This is not my first day playing football, I train and play football every day.

“But, for me to play today, during the World Cup, makes me happy. I feel like I am a part of the event.”

Svetlana Gannuskina of Civic Assistance Committee, a Russian NGO that supports refugees and forcibly displaced persons, said: “This event is to draw attention to the problems of discrimination, xenophobia. For us it is also to show the authorities that there are these great guys and they should be given (formal refugee) status.”

The tournament is one of a series of initiatives that Fare is organising at the World Cup. It follows the presentation of a World Cup Refugee XI on International Refugee Day on 20 June and an event of refugee inclusion ran by Civic Assistance Committee at the Diversity House in Moscow.

Fare Executive Director Piara Powar explained: “This is amazing, we are doing two things here, one is to show that we can help to integrate refugees by something as simple as playing football. It is only one act, only one day, but this does help.

“And of course, playing here at the Red Square is a once in a lifetime experience.

“This is not a political statement, this is something that says we have a global refugee crisis and through this sport, which is the sport of the world, we can try to help integration processes.”