Kenyan refugee in UK benefits from the human side of British football

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Jacob Vieira bears scars on his neck and disfiguration on his forearms reminding him of turbulent times in Nairobi, Kenya.

The scars came as a result of trying to avoid a drug dealer in Nairobi who would demand young footballers to ferry drugs to neighboring Tanzania on the team bus.

One day, Vieira tried to evade the drug dealer who had approached him in Nairobi by giving him the wrong departure date for the Kenyan national youth team’s trip out the country. He thought he was in the clear but that was not to be.

Upon his return to Nairobi, as he was entering his house, he was hit by a high voltage current which electrocuted him, rendering him unconscious. His door had been rigged up to the electric current intentionally.

He suffered substantial burns on the skin of his face and his forearms.

He was at the time playing for Kenyan Premier League side Muhoroni Youth FC.

When UK Premier League club Newcastle United came calling for a pre-appointed trial in August 2014, the coaches at the club’s Academy heard his story and sought to help. They advised him to seek Asylum in the UK.

He started the process but two and a half years later he still has not been able to convince the British authorities that his return to Kenya would pose a severe threat to his life.

Since Jacob is within the British asylum appeal system he is not permitted to work or study, so until the process is complete, he cannot join Newcastle or any other team.

Jacob is still trying to demonstrate that he is high profile enough to be at risk if he returns.  Newspaper clippings of his playing time with Muhoroni Youth FC have not been enough so he is still stuck in the appeal system.

“You feel that people don’t want to believe anything you say when you are in this process,” he says. “I provided all of the evidence of why I arrived so scarred. I’d never thought of this asylum thing until the coaches I first met saw how I felt about going back and suggested it. Everton have been willing to give me a place to be and see me as an individual.”

At one time, he was being held in the Harmondsworth Detention Centre in west London.

Jacob, who is now 21, has now formed a great relationship with Premier League football club Everton, a club which has been on the forefront in Britain in providing sanctuary and activity for refugees and asylum seekers.

The club’s weekly coaching session Everton in the Community has helped more than 250 people from around 25 countries. Most of these refugees are from  the conflict area in the Middle East. These helped by the club include  59 Sudanese, 10 Iraqis, 19 Ethiopians and 74 Eritreans.

Everton are one of more than 20 clubs to show their solidarity and support for refugees on Amnesty’s Football Welcomes weekend. Both Leicester and Hull are organizing a game for refugees participating in its community scheme.

Vieira and former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, struck up a strong rapport during the weekly coaching session in 2015. “I’ve trained with Tom Davies at the Academy and you could see that he’s special,” Vieira says. “I want to prove to a club that I am too.”

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