By Ian Kerr
From 2004, thousands of Darfuri people moved from the Darfur region of Sudan to refugee camps in Chad to escape a brutal civil war that has killed at least 300,000 people.
A football team, entirely made of refugees living in the camps, was founded in 2012 by Gabriel Stauring and i-ACT, a US N.G.O. working in the refugee camps of Chad.
Darfur United was formed with a dual purpose. First, as a way of education through sport, giving an opportunity to dozens of young guys who had never been outside their refugee camp, or played on a grass field or with a pair of football shoes. Second, as a way to bring attention to the Darfuri situation and to represent an entire people. Ten years after the beginning of the civil war, the continuing humanitarian crisis seems never-ending.
There was a first selection of 60 players from the 12 different refugee camps, organized in the dust of the camps, and then a second tryout to select the 16 players who would go on to wear the jersey of Darfur United.
The team participated in the 2012 Viva World Cup, which was hosted by Iraqi Kurdistan. This tournament (which no longer exists, and has been partially replaced by the Conifa World Cup) was a sort of World Cup for unrecognized nations, states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions unaffiliated with FIFA. Nations that don’t exist on the map, like Romani People, Kurdistan, Sapmi, Occitania, Isle of Man … and, of course, Darfur.
Guided by Gabriel Stauring and Mark Hodson, an NSCAA Premier License holder and a professional coach since 1999, 16 guys who had barely set foot outside their refugee camps took three different planes to reach Kurdistan.
Their opponents in the group stage were Northern Cyprus, Provence and Western Sahara.
Darfur United didn’t win that tournament. After losing their first two group matches against Northern Cyprus (0 – 15) and Provence (0 – 18), the team then had to play a Qualification Match for the 5th to 8th Place Semi Finals.
In the 46th minute of the match with Western Sahara, Moubarak Haggar Dougom scored Darfur United’s first-ever goal. The match ended 5-1 for Western Sahara, but scoring a goal was victory in itself for the refugee team.
In 2014 Darfur United took part to the Conifa World Cup, in Östersund, Sweden. In this occasion, some of the team decided to ask for political asylum in Sweden, where they live to this day.
A couple of them now play football in a local team, but they still dream of playing again with Darfur United.
Darfur United – the film
Documentary maker Paolo Casalis and the team at Stuffilm are now working on a documentary to tell Darfur United’s story.
“There’s a huge amount of footage,” says Paolo. “I’ve personally seen and cut more than 300 hours, and it’s impressive and touching material. The story of Darfur United is fully depicted, from the first idea of a team, to the player selection, to the adventures in Kurdistan and Sweden.”
All the footage covering the period 2004-2015 comes from Gabriel Stauring and i-ACT’s archives. The footage exists because Gabriel, who isn’t a filmmaker or a cameraman, had the idea of making a film out of this experience.
“The inspiration to make this film comes not just from the beautiful story of Darfur United, but also from the richness of this existing footage, which permits us (and this doesn’t happen so often to a filmmaker) to move back to years and years ago, and literally see the growth of our film characters since their childhood, and follow their personal history in depth.”
“We’ll be shooting our own footage as well. We’ll travel to Sweden to film Ismail and Moubarag (the team’s goal-keeper and winger) who now live there, and we’ll go to Chad to film the “evolution” of Gabriel’s dream: creating football academies for thousands of children in the refugee camps.”
Paolo and the team at Stuffilm are now looking for financial support from football lovers around the world to help finish the project.
“We’re at the very beginning of the production phase. This means that our “plot” has been written, that we’ve selected the film’s characters and talked with each one on them, and we’ve started to work with the archival footage. We’re programming our future trips and shootings, and we’re working on budget and distribution issues.
“There’s some interest from the United Nations, and a couple of international film distributors, but we definitely need help from fellow football fans.
“We’re not asking for something for nothing – we just ask you to book your streaming or DVD copy, so that you can support us while seeing the whole story.”