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Soccer unites refugees but who will give them a game?

Essa KhanSoccer is often called the game that unites the world but a group of refugees and asylum seekers from around the globe have found financial obstacles in their attempt to unite as a team in Sydney.

Players in the team unofficially known as Auburn United FC have come to Australia from Afghanistan, Africa, Nepal, Turkey and Tajikistan to find asylum.

According to Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO Violet Roumeliotis, most of the team members are on bridging visas, which means they are unable to work. SSI provides case management and other support services to many of the refugee and asylum seeker members of the team. Other players are full-time overseas students.

“Living on a tight budget, these players have no funds to pay registration fees of between $200 and $300 each to join an organised competition,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“Without support from a sponsor, they have no hope of playing the world game in Australia.”

Their options for engaging in Sydney’s cultural life are limited but they come together to play soccer, or football to most of the world, every week.

Until eight months ago, they formed only ad-hoc to play with whoever turned up to Auburn Park on any given night.

But when Afghan asylum seeker and soccer coach Essa Khan, 44, found them kicking a ball in the dark while out walking, he quickly rounded them up in to a team.

“It’s my passion and I like to give something to the young people,” Essa said with his Settlement Services International case manager Archana Ghale interpreting.

“It helps their health, they can engage in an activity and avoid anti-social behaviour.

“It’s better to play football than to get involved in alcohol or drugs.”

The two -dozen or so players now train every week and play regularly against other social clubs.

Mr Khan said he had played football in Afghanistan, and later Pakistan, before injuring his leg and taking up coaching; so getting the team together came naturally.

One of Auburn United’s players, Syed Rafi Musawi, said Mr Khan had organised the team and given its players direction and something to do with their time.

Syed, a 20-year-old accounting student at Granville TAFE, said football had been the perfect vehicle for helping refugees and asylum seekers engage in Australian culture.

“Australia is multicultural and this is a multicultural game,” he said.

“People from all different communities can come and play.”

Both Syed and Essa said the team was desperate to register in an official competition so they could play regularly and participate in an Australian way of life.

The players, with the help of Settlement Services International, are now looking for sponsors to help them meet the cost of joining a club in western Sydney.

Organisations, and individuals, with an interest in sponsoring the team can contact SSI on (02) 8799 6746.

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