Immigration

Soccer game organized for newly arrived Syrian refugees

New Nova Scotia families enjoy games in the BMO Soccer Centre

An Arabic speaking volunteer hands out jerseys before the start of the game.
An Arabic speaking volunteer hands out jerseys before the start of the game.   Haley MacLean

Some were wearing shorts, while others wore jeans. Even a few bare feet ran across the artificial grass as a group of over a dozen newly arrived refugees took the field in the BMO Soccer Centre to play a friendly game of soccer.

Nabiha Atallah, manager of communications & outreach at Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), helped co-ordinate the match. Since Syrian refugees have been arriving, ISANS has planned an outing every day for the new Nova Scotia families and plans to do so until the end of February.

“It’s mostly for people in their first days here,” said Atallah. “Soccer is an easy thing to do. You don’t need equipment, just the balls.”

The BMO Soccer Centre donated the time on the field when ISANS contacted Soccer Nova Scotia (SNS), saying the refugees were staying at the Chocolate Lake Best Western and needed a form of exercise.

Brad Lawlor, executive director of SNS, watched the game from the sidelines.

“The important part right now is the kids are not in school, so if you’re a three through 10-year-old, the kids are very restless and they want to get out and run,” said Lawlor. “Our weather is not accommodating, so they come here and they are able to run it off until they get into school and get physically active.”

The game’s smallest player takes a short rest while he watches his teammates.
The game’s smallest player takes a short rest while he watches his teammates.   Haley MacLean

This is the third time BMO Soccer Centre has hosted the recreational matches, and the ages of participants span from three to up to 65 years-old. Although today’s match consisted only of boys, girls are welcome as well.

Baheej Malik, 16, was one of the players at the match. He lived in Damascus, Syria before going to Jerash, Jordan for three years prior to coming to Canada. Immigration Canada choose Malik and his family to come to Halifax.

Baheej Malik during the halftime of the game.
Baheej Malik during the halftime of the game.   Haley MacLean

“We came first to Toronto for two days and then came to Halifax where this is my second day. So four days in all, in Canada,” said Malik. “I used to play for a club in Damascus, and then in Jordan we would save up to rent a soccer pitch, which cost us 12 Jordanian Dinars (approx. $24) to play in, or we just played on the streets.”

SNS recognizes the importance of beginning to incorporate the refugees into some of the winter and summer soccer leagues.

Lawlor said, “It’s very important for us to transition them into the club system. And that’s not because of member numbers; it’s because of them. They don’t want to be playing as a group, they want to transition into the society here in Nova Scotia and that’s what we are trying to get them to do.”