It’s a Wednesday evening at the Ain Issa camp, a space in Raqqa for people displaced by the Syrian civil war. The tents are overcrowded, filled to the brim with people who have found themselves in a beyond desperate situation. But, apart from that, this isn’t a standard night in the camp, which houses around 8,000 people – a figure which increases by the day.
A number of displaced Syrian men and boys are excitedly huddled around a projector. They are watching the world’s best football players competing in the FIFA World Cup – a type of entertainment not normally reserved for people who’ve found themselves homeless.
The screen has been supplied by a local charity, who are determined to help to improve the quality of life of the people in the camp. With their properties destroyed, the fate of their families unknown and their employment prospects practically zero, watching a game of football provides a welcome respite from a life otherwise consumed with pain, suffering and uncertainty.
Throughout the entire World Cup, the charity will be screening all the matches at the camp. “Showing the World Cup at the camp is such a beautiful initiative because it draws people out of their torment,” a spectator and resident of the camp, 38-year-old Abdallah Fadil al-Ubayd, says. “Everybody loves football.”
Abdallah Fadil al-Ubayd
The voices of passionate commentators boom through the loud speakers which are dotted throughout the tent. Excitement absorbs the atmosphere, adding to a sense of occasion. Mexico scores; the cluster of fans go wild. One of the men shrieking – who just gave his first name, Ubayd – says he used to enjoy playing football for his local team in Maskana, Aleppo.
That was before the province became overrun by violent Islamists just over four years ago. They were determined to enforce an extremist interpretation of religion upon the population, one that was at total odds with the values of Ubayd’s religious beliefs. “Daesh would come to the matches, confiscate our ID cards and throw the athletes in jail,” he recalls. Separate military efforts, from various parties with vested interests, have now expelled Daesh from Aleppo.
“Thank God we got rid of them and we can watch games again,” said Ubayd, with a glint of hope in his eye. It seems that despite the harsh card that these people have been dealt – nobody asked for religious extremists, long-term political uncertainty or a bloody civil war – they are still hopeful. They still look towards their future. For the sake of them, their families and the whole of Syria, they are wishing for a ceasefire and a return of democratic values to their country.