Boro star Jonny Howson spent a “rewarding” afternoon at the Herlingshaw Centre as MFC Foundation helped launch a national initiative with Amnesty International.
Embracing the Foundation’s Football Welcomes project and supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Amnesty will be working with the Boro and four other football club foundations and one county FA across the UK to set up local community alliances between refugee groups, their local clubs, community programmes, fans groups and others.
“I was blown away with some of the stories I heard and people I met,” said Howson. “The horror some of the people have witnessed is difficult to believe. How they have survived some of it is astonishing.
“The work the Foundation and Amnesty UK is doing is brilliant. It is helping people come together and help each other. Moving house is traumatic enough for a lot of people, just imagine what some of these people have gone through.”
Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation has partnered with Amnesty International UK to launch the Football Welcomes Community Projects to help create more welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum across the UK.
The Community Projects are a new addition to Amnesty’s Football Welcomes initiative, which celebrates the contribution refugees make to football.
“We’re honoured to be working with Amnesty UK again,” said Paul South, Lead Coach on the Foundation’s Football Welcomes programme. “We share common goals, share the same beliefs, ideals and principles.”
Naomi Westland, Amnesty International UK’s Football Welcomes Manager, said: “We’re delighted to have Middlesbrough Football Club involved in the Football Welcomes programme.
“The Community Project is an exciting new part of the programme and we’re looking forward to working with the club and fans over the next three years to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum feel welcome in Middlesbrough.
“The club is at the heart of the community and has a unique ability to bring people together through a love of the game.
“Football can give people a sense of belonging, on and off the pitch, and for people fleeing war, conflict and persecution, it can really help them to settle into a new country and culture.
“There is a real need right now for people to come together and focus on the things we have in common.”
Everyone on the programme has their own story. One benefiting from the initiative is Shaygan Banisaeid who has fled from his native Iran to seek refuge and start a new life.
Speaking in English, a second language to him, Shaygan revealed: “I was arrested on a street in Iran for chewing gum. As part of my punishment they killed my dog, I shared a pillow with him for 11 years and they did it in front of my eyes.
“I have to thank people of Middlesbrough, people of the area, for being so nice to me. I am so grateful to the Foundation for helping me. I love football, I want to coach and help others, maybe one day I work as a coach with the club!
“I want to give something back to this area, to people who have helped me and I can’t speak well enough of a project like this that helps people in great need.”