‘I want my story to inspire people’: Alphonso Davies on opening people’s eyes to the refugee crisis

The first footballer to become a UN Refugee Agency Global Goodwill Ambassador wants to inspire others and remove the stigma around asylum seekers

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Wednesday 24 March 2021 11:05
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Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies
Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies

The estimation is Liberia’s second civil war resulted in 300,000 casualties. That figure fails to tell the actual story of the lives that were lost - their dreams, their personalities, their passions.

It also discounts the existences that were permanently wrecked by mutilation and rape, often perpetrated by drugged-up child soldiers, who had their futures stolen.

This is the horrific reality Debeah and Victoria, the parents of Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, had to escape.

"You knew there were only two opportunities: you either become part of the war or try to get out,” the Champions League winner says over a Zoom call from Canada’s team base in Florida.

“I'm happy they chose to get out because my parents had no intention of carrying guns, shooting guns. That's not who they are.”

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Davies’ mother and father were not alone in making this choice; around one million people were forced to flee the war-torn country.

His parents escaped to the Buduburam refugee camp, stationed to the west of Ghana’s capital, Accra.

They were safe, but it was still no life. “There were struggles to find food, to find water, and then having a kid as well, but they fought through it,” the 20-year-old says.

“Everything in the refugee camp was a battle. It wasn't easy, but they were alive.”

Davies spent the first five years of his childhood in Buduburam, with no schooling and scant access to food, clean water, clothing and toiletry supplies.

He has no desire to separate that reality from his current one. On the Estadio da Luz pitch in Lisbon last August, with a Champions League winners’ medal around his neck while doused in champagne, the full-back made sure the world remembered his refugee status.

“I want my story to inspire people,” he said, using his crowning moment as a professional footballer to underscore how important it is to be given a shot at having a normal life.

Davies also wanted to help remove the stigma that surrounds the plight of displaced people that are left with no other choice but to leave their countries, putting their lives on the line in search of a crumb of peace.

It is unsurprising then that he is now discussing these issues in his capacity as the UN Refugee Agency’s newest Global Goodwill Ambassador - the first footballer to be tasked with such a role.

Davies’ rapid rise - a place on the Vancouver Whitecaps’ residential academy scheme at 14, becoming the youngest player in the MLS a year later, before Manchester United and Paris Saint-German were beaten to his signature by Bayern, where he has already won eight trophies - would not have been possible without a resettlement programme.

Canada accepted the Davies family in 2005, which offered them opportunity, possibilities and the chance to not just live, but make a good life.

“I can just visualise the smile on their faces,” Davies says of his mum and dad. “They were so excited, it was an amazing relief.”

Alphonso Davies celebrates with the Champions League trophy

Refugees are continuously framed as less than us, parasites to society that want to steal our livelihoods. They are scrubbed off who they are and what they want to achieve, with front pages of tabloid newspapers scaremongering through headlines like “The Swarm in our Streets,” “Draw a Red Line on Immigration or else.”

England’s big news broadcasters filmed small, overloaded boats carrying migrants trying to cross the Channel last year as though it was a Reality TV show and not a life-or-death matter.

Worse are the border policies that promote unnecessary demise. Being tough on immigration comes with a staggering human cost yet politicians are always “shocked and saddened” when another body washes up.

The latest count revealed that nearly 80 million have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Davies is desperate for refugees to be see as human and not a strain on society.

“It's really important,” he says. "Even though I'm a footballer, I still encounter racism. And even when it's not about the colour of your skin, you are looked at different when you have been resettled.

“It's a tough situation to be in. We have to raise awareness, making sure people understand that we're all human beings, we're all in this world together and we should have respect and love for one another.

"But, I mean, it's tough stuff. There are people out there that really don't care.

“They say whatever they want to say and those are the people that we're trying to change - trying to open their eyes to see that no matter where you come from, we can help each other as much as possible.”

When Davies moved to Canada, his parents took on extra jobs and shifts to give their three children the best crack at success.

The player would take care of his younger brother and sister after school, with football serving as his outlet and his haven.

“It helped me express myself,” he says. “Football did a lot for me. That's where I became myself.

“I was a shy guy in school, but once I started playing football that's when I started making more and more friends. It shows you who you are as well. I mean, football is not just running around playing a game. There are a lot of other factors involved.”

Now Davies is hoping his strides in the game can act as a source of hope to young refugees, while significantly illustrating how vital it is to share tales of success and not get snowed under in scaremongering.

“I want use my story to motivate people, to give them a little bit of hope that they can be what they want to be,” he says.

“There are lot of situations going on around the world, in a lot of countries, which are sad.

“I want to share my story, give my support and obviously make people aware of these situations as well. That's what I want to use my platform for. That's what I want to do and will do.

“Every time I look back on my story, it helps me work harder every day. I know where I came from and where I am now and that is the motivation that I have in me.”

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