SACRAMENTO — When it comes to refugee resettlement, Sacramento is one of the most welcoming cities in the United States.
According to the state department, over the past 30 years, some 60,000 refugees have resettled in the area, with as many as 10,000 coming in the past four years.
Saturday, around 150 of them competed in the Sacramento World Refugee Day Cup: a soccer tournament celebrating World Refugee Day.
“I think the foundation of this country is based on immigration,” said Shafi Rahimi, a refugee from Afghanistan.
Rahimi came to Sacramento five years ago after a decade working in the U.S. embassy in Kabul. A job which eventually became too dangerous.
“There were target killings because of the religious beliefs that they had. Actually, I should say false religious beliefs that they had,” Rahimi said.
Now, he’s team captain of Afghan United, an adult soccer team out of Elk Grove.
His is one of 14 soccer teams playing at Papa Murphy’s Park at Cal Expo in the tournament.
“We have teams from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Ukraine, and Russia,” said Leeann Danielson with World Relief Sacramento
Put on by World Relief Sacramento, refugees FOX40 spoke with say these types of events really help those families who just moved here.
“When I first got here in Sacramento in 2014,” explained Shafi Ullah Hotak with the Lao Family Community Development. “I didn’t know where to go and find like a halal store or places where I could go for shopping. This is what the community does if you can make friendships and you know each other.”
Some say they saw friends here today they haven’t seen in years.
But the connections and friendships made on the pitch go beyond a refugee’s country of origin.
“We have Russians, we have Ukrainians, we have people from Uzbekistan, we have Moldavian,” said Bogdan Tsyura from Ukraine.
Rahimi says it’s easier to relate to other refugees no matter what country they’re from.
“I have a couple of Mexican friends and we do hang out,” Rahimi said.
The event isn’t just about soccer, there’s also an effort to help these refugee families be successful here in Sacramento. That’s why they’re also offering a job fair event as well, where not only can they find work but also more information on how they can get education for themselves and their children.
But most agree that soccer is the great unifier.
“Back in Ukraine we love soccer,” exclaimed Tsyura.
“Why soccer? Because it’s the world’s game,” said Danielson. To which Hotak added, “the rules are all the same.”