Matt Barrett: Goal Click Refugees

Sunetra Senior Monday 27th July 2020 11:42 EDT

Last month, the social enterprise, Goal Click, launched a major new campaign, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency, to distribute disposable cameras to different refugees around the world. This included those from Syria and Afghanistan at refugee camps in Jordan as well as in the UK. The participants were encouraged to tell their unique stories through the universal platform of football. Founder of the philanthropic project, Barrett, commented: “Goal Click has been going for 6 years. We’ve worked across the world, from the very grass-roots, introducing sport in conflict zones and the amateur world of football and fan culture. We invite interesting perspectives on the world by bringing the lens to particular communities, and allowing them to tell their own story. It’s a truly insider view.” 

For the last three years, Goal Click have embarked on a version of the project that solely focusses on refugees and asylum seekers: “these are the glaringly untold stories and are the most silenced and unheard,” Barrett emphasised. Launching ahead of World Refugee Day, this year, the organisation worked with various NGOs and football charities to build a diverse portfolio of the especially marginalised narratives. “We did this with both photographs and the individual’s words. Each refugee would take typically 27 snaps on a roll of film, and write their stories alongside this.” A series of interviews with the individual participants and video footage of the campaign was also released to coincide with World Refugee Week 2020 (15-21 June). 


Of course, this also resonates with the current political zeitgeist of increasingly sensitive identity politics. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained momentum recently, following the unjustifiable murder of black-American, George Floyd by a white police officer in the US. Here, the emotionally intelligent approach of Goal Click Refugees is particularly apt. “The ubiquitous nature of football operates on two levels,” Barrett told us. “The first is from the storyteller’s perspective where the sport can be recognised anywhere in the world, from Syria to North Korea to Peru! It is a visceral mode of communication alongside the acts of music and dance which inspires instantly; the second way in which football is relatable is from the point of view of the observer. It allows us to frame challenging issues such as the refugee crisis, general health scares, and the atrocity of war, drawing attention to otherwise upsetting subjects. It creates a common language with another state of society.” In short, an accessible, direct sport allows an inimitably shared empathy.  

“The vague idea of ‘bringing the world together’ is too simplistic. Football introduces an immediate connection to another’s life. Goal Click Refugees specifically illustrate for you what an individual’s life is like. We encourage the mentality of wanting to understand: to really absorb what someone has been through.” Indeed, the project also reciprocally highlights the commonality of life across the world. Barrett gave the poignant example of a Kenyan refugee called Jacob, now living in the UK, whose passion and talent shone brightly through. “This guy was actually a professional footballer in Africa, and it is unusual for someone of that standing to become a refugee. He had been used as a ‘mule’ by drug smugglers, and was tragically marked by the criminal underworld from a young age. He did escape their intentions, going on to play in the Kenyan premier league, but was tracked down soon after and electrocuted in his own home. A few weeks after that, he was on trial with Newcastle United in the English Premier League, but could not pursue this career while being an asylum seeker. Today, he is on his way to becoming a professional football referee – after such struggle that was no fault of his own.” 

Ultimately then everybody is the same: we simply exist in different contexts. Refugees are ordinary people who have been tragically displaced. Most were leading a normal existence, peacefully getting on, before the abrupt outbreak of war, violence or the onset of natural disaster. Barrett added: “The mainstream media also tends to focus on Calais, but there are 80 million refugees currently worldwide. What was emphasised in the photographic accounts we received was that the refugee crisis is not a European dominated issue. We have a variety of stories from refugees being hosted across the world – many are from camps in the Middle-East and Africa. Another interesting observation is that I have never heard any of the storytellers complaining. That I hear more from the public in the UK! Mostly, those individuals displaced are happy to be able to express themselves – to bring you into the dynamism of life.”  

And so, Goal Click not only captures, but also hones the power of the universality of the human experience.  “Simply put, whether it is in Middlesbrough or a Jordanian refugee camp, football is that lightning rod that helps start the healing process. It is not the medicine, but rather an entry point into helping people recover from trauma. This is what comes through loud and clear across every testimony. The strong connection to a bigger visible space is the first step towards new life – it makes facing struggle easier, and the rest flows from that.” Finally, it is often the completer understanding of a difficult scenario that creates the path to effective change. Equality itself is the product of the collective, proactive mind.  

Goal Click Refugees are en route to including Rohingya Storytellers later this year. To find out more go to: 

T: @Goal_Click 

I: @goalclick 

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