Strasbourg wants to use sport as a means of integrating migrants

Women refugees and asylum-seekers learning to ride a bicycle in Heyritz Park in Strasbourg

On this cool but sunny morning at the end of May, Mirashi Fllanxa, an Albanian woman, climbs on to a bicycle, apprehensive about taking to the asphalt slope of Strasbourg’s Heiritz Park. Along with nine other women, refugees or asylum seekers, Mirashi is learning to ride a bicycle. In her country of origin, this is a sport reserved for men only. « Cycling gives us freedom, independence and allows us to discover the city », she says, assuring us that « the culture and the way of life are more difficult to learn than the language ». Igombo DaGraça, an Angolan mother of four, who says she has « a lot of stress » in her daily life, agrees : « When you don’t work and your life isn’t easy, it gives you confidence ».

Strasbourg, finalist for the Wellbeing City Award 2021, has decided to use sport as a means of integrating refugees and asylum seekers. The « Inclusion through sport » programme, launched by the new municipality, has been available since 19 May in three activities : cycling, swimming and being active. For each of them, it is a question of offering a group of migrants the possibility of learning to ride a bike, to swim or to learn to play a collective sport.

Instilling a sense of belonging

« Sport has a unifying power,  says Farid Adjoudj, head of the Inclusion-Citizenship project in the city’s Sport Department. It is good for health and well-being, breaks down barriers, helps to open up the community and stimulates confidence and a collective spirit by instilling a sense of belonging, which encourages openness to others. »

The associations for the mutual aid and reception of migrants help the municipality to set up groups of children, teenagers, young adults or women, with each programme being adapted to the age categories and the specificity of the people. For example, because women in their home countries are often far removed from physical activities and sports, the idea of encouraging them to learn to ride a bicycle tto shape. « We are in a qualitative approach of accompanying people, tailor-made », insists Serge Bomstein, a volunteer at Caritas and convinced that we can no longer be only distributive towards migrants. « We are speaking to individuals, not groups, because there is heterogeneity in learning needs.  »

Refugee children learning to swim at the Hardt swimming pool in Strasbourg

Promoting encounters between local residents and refugees

This year, because of Covid, the programme should involve a good hundred participants. However, the city’s objective is to train 600 migrants each year by 2024. To roll out this programme, the city is working to change the way its sports federations and clubs operate, so that they themselves develop such activities with refugees. « The current organisation of sports facilities means that they are only open to people from the same neighbourhood who want to compete. But not everyone can – or wants to – compete. These structures must also include leisure sections », says Owusu Tufuor, deputy sports officer. « This will encourage encounters, mixing and exchanges between local residents and refugees. » This actor in the social field, originally from Ghana, is inspired by his own experience. « I arrived in France at the age of 15, without speaking a word of French. It was thanks to my football coach that I was able to integrate », he says. « We need to re-emphasise sport as a social link, as a vector for citizenship, and even for access to employment. It is essential that sport becomes inclusive again« .

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