Refugees play football matches for new mental health study

  • Date

    Mon 25 Apr 22

A man plays football

Refugees from across the globe played football as part of a study to see how sport helps those forced to flee their homes.

The University of Essex research hopes to discover if the beautiful game can boost the mental health of displaced people.

Students lead the sessions at the Colchester Campus where men from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan played short 6-a-side style games.

Each week, the players, who all live in Essex waiting to be settled, told researchers how the matches affected them.

It is hoped the research will show soccer gives them a mental boost, creates a sense of community, and could even see similar schemes provided across the country.

The team from the School of Sport, Rehabilitation, and Exercise Sciences worked with Colchester Borough Council and the charity Refugee Action – Colchester.

One of those taking part was Abdul, 30, from Syria.

He said: “I feel positive and full of energy after participating.

“I was in university in Syria studying law, so to be in the university environment again made me really happy and forget my situation.

“It gave me hope that I will be able to continue my studies here in the UK one day.”

The project ran for four weeks and is part of the university’s commitment to helping refugees.

Essex is a University of Sanctuary and is committed to making its campuses a welcoming and safe place for asylum seekers.

The study is being led by Dr Chris McManus, who also organised basketball and badminton sessions.

He said: “These people are exposed to risk factors for mental health disorders before, during and after migration and we hope this research can really help them.

“Physical activity can promote wellbeing, social inclusion and psychological symptoms, and we aim to identify if this degree of intervention can produce similar results.

“Our findings have the potential to influence government policy and as a University of Sanctuary we are committed to doing whatever we can to help asylum seekers.”

The study has been welcomed by Refugee Action – Colchester, which works to help asylum seekers who settle in North Essex.

A spokesman said: “We know that exercise, in general, can be very effective for improving general feelings of wellbeing.

“But this group of people can often feel isolated, negatively labelled in society, and are very much in limbo in their lives.

“To be brought into the University campus and be made to feel not only welcome but valued members of team activity is so beneficial.

“To temporarily forget their current situation and immerse themselves back into something they feel is a normal and fun activity creates feelings of both acceptance and hope.

“Refugee Action - Colchester is so thankful to the University of Essex for instigating such a worthwhile study, which could impact so many lives so positively."