No human is illegal

Last year while we were in Detroit we met the awesome folks behind FC St. Pauli Toronto. They had heard of our previous work with Refugees and suggested we show a film called “Here to Stay” and episode of Religion of Sport on FC Lampedusa, FC St. Pauli and refugees in Hamburg, Germany. This past Sunday we were finally able to pull together a viewing and panel discussion at the Princess Cinema. Our panel included Ahmed Ullah, Mary Saleh, Steve Tulloch and Mark Palmer.

Here to Stay

Here to Stay opens with scenes of war in Syria and elsewhere and the clips from newscasts focusing on the amount of refugees that arrived in Germany. The stats were staggering as you hear of Germany opening it’s doors to the many people fleeing war and turmoil in their home countries.

The film than focuses on FC Lampedusa and the opportunity it provides to refugees to enjoy a game they love in a team atmosphere. The interview the two coaches of the team, who mention that many of the players are deported. It is a sharp reminder that while the story of FC Lampedusa is a positive one, there is the reality that some of these players simply disappear.

The film then changes gears to talk about FC St. Pauli who sponsors Fc Lampedusa and focuses on their ethos of “Kein Mensch ist Illegal” (No human is illegal). The president speaks of how that ethos encouraged FC St. Pauli to support a local church who had taken in refugees and then by extension as well FC Lampedusa.

The film than focuses to how opposition throughout Germany had grown and what does it mean to be a refugee. To search for a home, a place that is safe, a place where they can be with people who care for them. From there


I was really excited by the panelists we were able to pull together for this event. Mary Saleh was recently profiled by our local newspaper and having met before hand to discuss the event it was incredibly exciting to hear her story and the work that she is doing in our community now to support newcomers. Mary currently has a GoFundMe page available for her project to start a soccer clinic for newcomer girls. Ahmed Ullah is a Rohingya refugee who has come to Canada and become a passionate advocate through founding the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative and discussing Rohingya issues worldwide. Recently his focus has been on education. He also was recently profiled in the Record and quoted as saying “Refugees could be anything, as long as you give them the chance.” I first met Steve Tulloch about 7 years ago. He was the first person to tell me about a local deportation story and it has stuck with me since. Steve has worked with the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support and has been working with newcomers for years as a advocate and activist. Mark Palmer was the first one to suggest that we play Here to Stay in Waterloo region. He is the founder of FC St. Pauli Toronto and a proud supporter of Newcomer Kitchen. The Toronto viewing last year also inspired the Buffalo chapter of FC St. Pauli to start Journey’s End, another newcomer soccer Program in Buffalo.

We opened with Steve discussing the ways that newcomers can arrive in Canada – public sponsorship, private sponsorship (groups as large as 5), and asylum seekers (which is what Here to Stay focused on). As a refugee, Ahmed explained how he arrived through Windsor via a private sponsorship. Mary spoke of how she arrived as a student originally but spoke of the deep barriers that exist to integration for refugees and why she has started to work with reception house.

Mark then spoke of how the No Human Is Illegal ethos has spread and how St. Pauli provides this baseline ethos but local chapters can showcase it in unique ways, such as Toronto’s sponsorship of Newcomer Kitchen and Buffalo’s Journey End. Ahmed spoke of the power that the sport provided to the Rohingya community and how it helped them to bond here. Mary, as a relative newcomer, felt that soccer was not a big part of the community on arrival but that the university team has helped her to meet Canadians.

We finished the panel with Steve wrapping up the Canadian asylum seeker experience. 60% of asylum seekers are deported from Canada. Some will live in Canada for years only to be reviewed and sent home. Deportation centres, that are converted prisons, will hold asylum seekers for years as the government tries to find the right documents to send seekers home. Ahmed mentioned Canada’s bi-polar nature when it comes to refugees. On one hand we will have politicians hugging newcomers as they arrive in airports and simultaneously we will refer to refugees as “Asylum Shoppers”.

Ahmed had to run but here is Steve, Mary, myself and Mark

Ethos and Grand River Union

Speaking to guests after the film it was clear that everyone was left inspired and impacted by the film. As a fellow Grand River Union member said to me, it reminded us of why we are doing this soccer support thing. Ahmed mentioned how powerful it was for his community to gather around the game and he wanted everyone to feel that. Hearing of another newcomer who couldn’t find the resources she needed to connect with the soccer community here in KW tells us we have more work to do.

The slogan No one is illegal as well is something that seems to have resonated with our group. Many stayed after the film to talk to the panelists. Hearing that we send 60% of asylum seekers back into dangerous or unsustainable positions left us wondering what we could do to help, if anything. For now we want to continue to focus on making the lives of those who we can better through this sport. Helping our community to find it’s team. Waterloo Region’s home.

Special note: All proceeds were donated to Mary Saleh’s program for newcomer girls. Please check it out!

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