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Soccer tournament celebrating 'second life' for recent refugees

Date

Jacqueline Williams

From left: Cheam Banyar, 22, of Turner; Prasi Khoe Khoe, 24, of Dunlop; Soekamor Kyipay, 21, of Reid; Kamal Ahmed, 18, of Florey and Deng Aleer, 18, of Flynn.

From left: Cheam Banyar, 22, of Turner; Prasi Khoe Khoe, 24, of Dunlop; Soekamor Kyipay, 21, of Reid; Kamal Ahmed, 18, of Florey and Deng Aleer, 18, of Flynn. Photo: Melissa Adams

Most were forced out of their home countries because of violence, persecution and oppression only to find themselves in a strange and unfamiliar place.

They learned a new language, navigated their way through a new culture and way of life and worked hard to find jobs and make friends.

But as they gathered on a soccer field in the middle of Canberra this week, preparing for Canberra's World Refugee Day soccer tournament, the challenges associated with resettlement were far from their minds.

The tournament, which starts tomorrow and is organised by community-based organisation Companion House, aims to support and celebrate the strengths of newly arrived refugees in Canberra and the region.

Event organiser Hong Sar Channaibanya, who left Burma in 1997, said the tournament was about building friendships and making refugees feel as though they were a part of the community.

He said some people, from South Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia, who have played in the tournament for two to three consecutive years, were now great friends.

''Now they mock each other, joke around with each other, they're real friends who come from very different places,'' Mr Channaibanya said.

When Mr Channaibanya arrived in Canberra, he could barely speak English. He had very little education behind him and he struggled to make friends. But with persistence that all changed. He now likens his relocation to Australia to being reborn.

''It's a second life,'' he said.

Kamal Ahmed, 18, who returns to the tournament this year after taking out last year's title, grew up in South Sudan but relocated to Egypt before moving to Canberra. His seven sisters and four brothers are now scattered around the world. When Mr Ahmed arrived with his mother in Canberra six years ago, he didn't speak a word of English.

''It wasn't good living conditions back in Egypt,'' Mr Ahmed said.

''It was dangerous, the education wasn't good, there was not enough money and it was hard to find jobs - I was very happy to leave. It's much better here and easier to live here.''

It was through Mr Ahmed's love of soccer that he made new friends in Canberra and learnt the language.

In year 12 at Lake Ginninderra College, Mr Ahmed hopes to become a professional soccer player upon finishing school.

''My friends who are back there, their life is quite difficult,'' he said.

''Most of them are cleaning cars. I've been given so many opportunities - school, a new home.''

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