Kids from Mali playing soccer at a refugee camp near Dori, Burkina Faso, July 4, 2012. EPA/H. Fohringer
Kids from Mali playing soccer at a refugee camp near Dori, Burkina Faso, July 4, 2012. EPA/H. Fohringer

A new sports center for migrants evacuated from Libya has opened in Niger's capital, Niamey. It is hoped that the center, built by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, will help the migrants to overcome trauma.

The sports complex was inaugurated on November 7 at the hosting center of Niamey. Construction of the facility was funded by the Fondazione Milan, the charitable foundation of the AC Milan football club. "Thanks to the generous support of the Foundation, a football field, a basketball court and a volleyball court were built", the UN agency said in a statement. "The structures will be available to refugees evacuated to Niger from Libya who are at the center."

Sport helps overcome trauma 

UNHCR said the project was part of the program "Sport as Therapy", promoted by the UN agency. The migrants who will benefit will mainly be "highly vulnerable youths who have endured violence and torture," the Fondazione Milan said. The goal of the initiative is to allow them to participate in sports activities with a therapeutic purpose, helping them overcome trauma and boosting their confidence. 

A successful collaboration 

"UNHCR is deeply grateful to the Fondazione Milan for its fundamental support over the last 10 years," said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR representative in Niger. "From the funding of a sports-related project in Lebanon to the commitment to the education of Syrian children, the impact has been remarkable, concrete and tangible. You only have to look into these children's eyes to understand how important sport is to them. Through it, they can try to put their traumatic experiences behind them, and to socialize and develop their potential as human beings." 

"The collaboration with UNHCR has been a great opportunity for the Fondazione Milan," said Rocco Giorgianni, the secretary-general of the Fondazione Milan. "Besides making many kids happy, being able to implement sport and education-related projects shows how important these elements are for social and personal development even in the context of humanitarian emergencies." 

Since the end of 2017, Niger has cooperated with UNHCR on the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM), a program aimed at providing lifesaving assistance through the temporary evacuation of refugees from Libyan detention centers pending transfer to third countries, the agency said. UNHCR has already evacuated more than 5,000 refugees from Libya.

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