Clubs across UK backing Amnesty International Football Welcomes initiative
Arsenal, Tottenham Celtic and Rangers are among 60 clubs across Britain taking part in Amnesty International's second Football Welcomes initiative at the weekend, celebrating the contribution refugees have made to the game.
The campaign, which has doubled in size from last year's first edition, marks the anniversary of the arrival in the UK of a group of child refugees from the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Six of that group went on to play professional football in England.
Twelve Premier League clubs are involved this year, with Arsenal, Everton, Stoke and Watford promoting their community work in their match programmes and online, while Newcastle and Southampton are putting on stadium tours for local refugee groups.
Leicester support weekly football sessions for refugees with a local charity and provide free tickets to games, West Ham's foundation is putting on a morning of activities for young refugees and asylum seekers and Spurs and Swansea are inviting refugees to their next home games.
Crystal Palace's foundation is releasing a short film about its work with a young Afghan refugee, while Huddersfield have invited asylum seekers and refugees for a training session and given away tickets to their next home game.
Amnesty UK's Football Welcomes manager Naomi Westland said: "It's wonderful to see even more clubs laying aside their rivalries this weekend and coming together to say refugees are welcome here.
"At a time when politics is often dominated by hate-filled and divisive rhetoric, this shows that there is another story to be told."
Former Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, now an ambassador for the club, takes coaching sessions for refugees and asylum seekers.
The South African, born during the years of apartheid, told the Guardian: "We are working with kids from different parts of the world and trying to give them an opportunity to learn English.
"Football is a special sport which brings people together -- whatever problems you are having in your life they all seem to go away when you get on to the pitch. I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers."
Numerous Football League clubs are also involved in the Amnesty initiative, with Norwich midfielder Mario Vrancic taking questions from local schoolchildren for a video interview about his family's experience of fleeing the Balkan conflict.
"It was clear the war in Bosnia was coming and we had to leave to find safety," Vrancic said.
"My entire family went to different countries. The hardest thing was leaving my grandparents behind and trying to start a new life in a new country, [but] people here have been really friendly and helped me adapt to this city."
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said: "EFL clubs are at the heart of 72 communities across England and Wales and play a vital role in promoting integration, so I'm delighted to see so many showing their support and extending a warm welcome to refugees."