Saturday, 23 January 2021

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A refugee defender against an army of migrants

Security Council members, wearing the jerseys of their national teams, gathered in the chamber today to mark the opening of this year's FIFA World Cup. UN Photo/Mark Garten

Center back Dejan Lovren will lead the defense of the Croatian national team in the World Cup final on Sunday against a feared French attack.

But challenges are nothing new to Lovren.

He was born to Croatian parents in Zenica in Yougoslavia, now Bosnia-Herzegovina. When he was only three years old his parents had to escape the conflict and became refugees in Germany.

In a documentary called My life as a refugee Lovren has recounted the odyssey of his family. 

He actually remembers the night when the family fled the war.

"I just remember when the sirens went off. I was so scared because I was thinking 'bombs' or that something will happen now,” Lovren said.

"I remember my mum took me and we went to the basement, I don't know how long we'd been sitting there, I think it was until the sirens went off. Afterwards, I remember mum, my uncle, my uncle's wife, we took the car and then we were driving to Germany."
After seven years in Germany the family had to leave and settled in Croatia, where Lovren struggled to get used to the Croatian language.

The feared French attackers he will face could be called an army of migrants. Nineteen year-old Kylian Mbappé´s parents are respectively of Algerian and Cameroonese origin. His attacking partner in crime, Antoine Griezmann, on the other hand is of Portugese and German origin. To round off the attacking trio, Oliver Giroud, has Italian grandmothers on both sides of his family.

The muscular midfield line-up of the French team all hails from Africa, with Paul Pogba´s brothers even playing for the Guinean national team and N´Golo Kanté being eligible to play for Mali.

The rest of first-11 of the team, except one player, have foreign roots: Blaise Matuidi is of Angolan/Congolese origin, Samuel Umtiti, Cameroonian, Lucas Hernandez, is partly of Spanish origin and Hugo Lloris´ father is of Catalan descent.
„ This #worldcup has shown that diversity is an asset, not a threat. Did you know that 17 players on France’s 23-man roster are the sons of migrants?”, IOM, Migration tweeted about the World Cup.

Indeed, 78% of the 23-strong French team are of migrant origin, and just below 50% of the English and Belgian Semi-finalist teams.

If France wins the World Cup on Sunday, they will follow the lead of the victorious French team of 1998, which lead by Zinedine Zidane of Algerian origin was also predominantly made up of children of migrants “Black, beurs, blanc” as they were called (black, arab, white).

The Croatian team may be more ethnically homogenous than the teams of former colonial powers such as France, England and Belgium, but still the World Cup can arguably be called a festival of migrants. In the words of the Mexican ambassador to the US, Juan José Goméz Camacho, tweeted by IOM, UN Migration: “Watching the World Cup? More than likely you are cheering for migrants. 72 of the top-ranked 100 footballers are migrants.”

The World Cup has been followed with attention at the United Nations, where the focus has been on migration for the past few weeks. The UN General Assembly is expected to agree on a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration on 13 July.

“Migrants are a remarkable engine for growth. Migrants number more than 250 million around the world,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a press conference yesterday “They make up 3 per cent of global population but contribute 10 per cent of global gross domestic product.”

Photo captions: Fans watching France-Belgium

(Gustave Deghilage //

Fans celebrate in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. (sheilaahmadi/

Dejan Lovren playing with his team Liverpool in England (Kamran Hussain/


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