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April 05, 2024

Sports have long-lasting impacts on young refugees

Sports have the unique ability to help individuals build themselves up and grow their skills while also bringing people together and creating community. For refugees and other people who have been forced to flee, sports can bring a sense of relief, help them connect to their host communities and even encourage them to resume their education.

From basketball players to soccer stars to boxers, here are three spirited and resourceful displaced people using sports to improve their lives and connect with those around them.


Litch: South Sudanese Basketball Player and Training Camp Founder

Litch: South Sudanese Basketball Player and Training Camp Founder in Kakuma

"Basketball is a game that teaches life lessons. You cannot be the best if you don't work hard, you have to be smart and skilled to score a basket, you have to play with your mind," says Litch Gatkoi.

Litch fled to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2014 when he was 15 years old. He came to the camp with his cousin, who returned to South Sudan in 2017, leaving him without family nearby. But when Litch discovered basketball, he started to thrive.

He founded Global Refugee Basketball, a basketball training camp in Kakuma with 150 players—70 girls and 80 boys. Two of the camp's members recently received high school scholarships after dropping out of school and going five years without any education.

"I saw there were scholarship opportunities through sports and seeing how many young people were letting their lives go to waste, I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to get a second chance at education through scholarship opportunities," Litch says, explaining his motivation for starting the basketball camp.

Litch and his team continue building on their mission, forming the KAKA All-Star team, where refugees and host community members can come together to play.

Basketball gave Litch a second chance and an opportunity to inspire others to reach for their dreams.

"I want to succeed in life so that people can see that sports can lead to success." 


Adiba: Afghan Soccer Star in AustraliaAdiba: Afghan Soccer Star

Adiba is an Afghan refugee and a member of the Afghan Women's Football (Soccer) Team. When new authorities came to power in August 2021—and Afghanistan became increasingly volatile and dangerous, especially for women—the Australian government granted emergency visas to evacuate the Afghan Women’s Football Team. This evacuation included 38 female soccer players as well as their family members.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met the Afghan Women’s Football Team in Australia, where he commended “the transformative power of sport for people displaced by war and conflict.”

The team now competes in the Victoria State League and supported Australia’s women’s team, the Matildas, in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.


Fernanda: Passionate Young Honduran Boxer

Fernanda: Passionate Young Honduran Boxer in Honduras

13-year-old Fernanda lives in a dangerous community in Honduras from which people are often forced to flee. Despite the many challenges in her community, she is determined and passionate about doing what she loves — for Fernanda, that’s boxing.

UNHCR has supported the creation of safe spaces in Fernanda’s area, such as the San Miguel Sports Center. This center provides informal education through sports while promoting mental health and wellness. These spaces allow children to access education and protection beyond the classroom.

Through participating in the community's Boxing Club, Fernanda has honed her skills and become a national boxing champion in her category. This remarkable achievement is a testament to her commitment, discipline and talent.

Her achievements inspire other children facing similar circumstances. Fernanda is a shining example of how, with the right support and opportunities, young people can overcome many obstacles and achieve extraordinary things.


How you can help…

You can support programming that helps children and young adults pursue their passions and access safe spaces by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor. Your contribution will help ensure that displaced people around the world have access to safety and opportunities for the future.