Niamey – Sport is often associated with physical health, but it can also be very beneficial to the mental health of the individuals who practice it. In this regard, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) integrates sports as part of the activities in the transit centres for vulnerable and stranded migrants in Niger to contribute to their well-being while they await their voluntary return to their country of origin.
In October, a few days before the new academic in Niger, IOM, in collaboration with Hoops4Kids, a non-profit organization that promotes social cohesion through sports and culture, organized a summer camp with youth from IOM transit centres in Niger and Nigerien youth from the host community.
Twenty-four migrants and 16 Nigeriens from the host community aged 18 to 20 participated in the five-day summer camp.
Throughout the five days, the group practiced basketball to prepare for the competitive games at the end of the summer camp.
Each day of the summer camp began with an hour-and-a-half yoga session. While the young migrants were initially reluctant to participate in this ancient mind-body practice, they eventually became fully invested in the physical effort and level of concentration required.
"At first, I didn't enjoy the activity and couldn't see its purpose," says Yacouba, an 18-year-old migrant from Côte d'Ivoire staying in one of IOM's transit centres for vulnerable migrants in Niamey. "At the end of the first session, I realized its calming effect on me. I ended up wanting the yoga classes to last longer."
As the first day of summer camp unfolded, it was time to distribute t-shirts, sneakers, and towels to each young migrant. The youth could not contain their excitement for their new belongings. As soon as they put on their new clothes, they rushed to capture the moment and share the photos online with their loved ones.
"I was already a big basketball fan, and I used to play it occasionally, but this was a lot more fun because I had the right equipment, and I got to practice with actual basketball players," says Ibrahim, a 19-year-old migrant from Sierra Leone. "I wish it were a weekly activity," he adds.
To mark the end of the summer camp, a recreational outing was organized on the outskirts of Niamey. It was an opportunity for the youth to bond and reflect on their time together, overlooking the city. On the ride back to the transit centre, chants of songs from home kept the fun going.
"Looking back on the past few days, I felt like I took part in a family activity which has allowed me to get closer to the people I have shared my time with in Niger," says Atse, an 18-year-old Nigerian migrant, to his teammates.
"Young migrants can experience stigmatization, exploitation, and violence under inhumane conditions when they leave their country of origin," says Manon Dos Santos, IOM Niger Protection Officer in charge of mental health and psychosocial support. "Team sports provide a unique way to bring migrant youth together, learn about the local culture through interaction with community members, and strengthen social well-being and mental health."
Regular recreational activities are organized in IOM transit centres in Niamey to make the most out of the youth's stay in Niger and to involve them in cultural activities to keep them entertained until their return home.
The summer camp was organized with the financial support of the Ministry of the Interior of Italy within the framework of the 'Assistance to vulnerable and stranded migrants in Niger – AVENIR II' project.