Migrant footballers win hearts in Spain



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On a sunny Sunday morning on the outskirts of Jerez, Spain, a group of young migrants began arriving at the San Telmo sports field. Many have worked late shifts in kitchens or factories throughout the city; others have worked on traffic signals, sold networks or washed the windshields of waiting cars. Some people sleep on the streets.

For the next few hours, this daily struggle was forgotten. Migrants – mainly from the west and north Africa – have found new teams and new families: Alma de Africa, the Soul of Africa.

In the dressing room they turn into bright green team colors. Polished on the front of the shirt is Article 14 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: orang Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution. '

Midfielder Modu Ndiaye left his home in Senegal two years ago.

"To see happy players for a while makes me feel good, because we can forget bad things in life," he told VOA.

The results are not always in accordance with such optimism. After the match, losing 3-1 to Estrella Portuense B, Ndiaye and teammate Bashir Adlaf talked about their experience in Spain.

Like many of his teammates, Ndiaye risked his life in a crowded boat to reach the coast of Spain.

"We take a boat to the island of Tenerife. It took 10 days, it was very difficult. Everyone thinks we will not succeed. We ran out of drinking water, we suffered a lot. Thank God, we arrived there. "

Modu's teammate Bashir Aldaf arrived at Jerez just two months ago and immediately began looking for a team.

"I went to Jerez Football Club for two weeks, but the coach told me that I couldn't play because I didn't have the right papers. He told me to go and find Alma de Africa. "

Alma de Africa Union Deportiva players warmed up before the soccer match against Espera CF in Espera, March 18 2018.

Alma de Africa Union Deportiva players warmed up before the soccer match against Espera CF in Espera, March 18 2018.

Alma de Africa was born three years ago, when locals saw a group of migrants playing football in the park. Players often argue, so that locals find a referee, and in step Alejandro Benitez, now president of the club.

On the pitch, Benitez saw talent. Beyond that, he recognizes deep vulnerabilities. So he formed a team and persuaded the Spanish football league to let them play.

"We started from zero, we put our own money," Benitez said. "The problem is that every year we have to start from zero."

Benitez seems to be a father figure for many players. He said local authorities must do more to help migrants rise.

"At the end of the game, we cannot let them go back to their old ways of life, sell goods with traffic signals, wash cars," Benitez said. "We need more than foot balls. We need apartments, so they can avoid living on the streets, we need classes so they can learn languages ​​faster, we need support to bring them to the labor market, so we can show that diversity is not negative, it's positive. "

Claiming asylum and obtaining the right legal documents can take years. Without the right documents, finding a job is still impossible. Despite support from the club, Bashir Adlaf found it difficult.

"Before I believed it would be a better life in Spain. But if you don't have a job, it's very difficult, "he said.

Alma de Africa supports a small portion of the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive every year in Spain. But more broadly, the founders hope to change attitudes through a shared sporting spirit.

On the field, the team is struggling. But the bigger challenge is finding money to keep this football family going.

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