New Syrian refugees to Nova Scotia enjoy the beautiful game in 'beautiful' country

Yvette d'Entremont
Published on January 15, 2016

Two young Syrians play soccer during a pickup game with other new Nova Scotians at the BMO Soccer Centre Jan. 14.

©Jeff Harper - Metro Halifax

METRO HALIFAX - Anas Abujesh doesn’t know many English words, but the 12-year-old Syrian refugee did know "beautiful,"  the word he used to describe Canada.

Abujesh arrived in Canada last week. He was one of more than a dozen Syrian refugees who enjoyed a spirited soccer game at the BMO Soccer Centre in Halifax Jan. 14.

Organized by the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) with the help of Soccer Nova Scotia, Thursday’s event was the third soccer game held for refugees in the past two weeks

“I used to play soccer in school, I started playing soccer in first grade and so yes, I am excited to be here playing,” Abujesh said through interpreter Issam Khoury.

“This building is nice and beautiful. I like everything about Canada. Canada is more than beautiful.”

The newcomer said he wants to join a soccer league in Halifax and would like to be a goalkeeper. Just before taking to the pitch, he was handed a coloured bib.

“I want to be on the team that will go after them,” he joked, pointing to a couple of other players on the field.

That spirit of competitiveness was evident during the hour long game that brought out 14 refugees, many children and youth, but a few adults too.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for people, especially when they are arriving in winter and they have to stay indoors most of the time,” said ISANS spokeswoman Nabiha Atallah. “Soccer is a game they all know and love. It’s a great opportunity for them to be active and to be able to get out and do something different while they are in a bit of a waiting period.”

Brad Lawlor, executive director of Soccer Nova Scotia, said his organization was thrilled to have the chance to help organize soccer games for refugees. He said the high level of play was fun to watch.

“Soccer is a universal game and this is their sport of choice.. You can tell they are just so passionate about the sport,” he said. “We have 50 and 60-year-old men here and three-year-old girls coming out and playing a game that they love and for us giving them an opportunity is just awesome.”