Mabil’s journey from refugee to role model 

  • Former Sudanese refugee Awer Mabil recently debuted for Australia
  • He often returns to the refugee camp to provide football equipment
  • “Football has given me life,” Mabil told

Thirteen years ago Awer Mabil was living a day-by-day existence. Like most refugees, he faced a scarily uncertain future.

The nine-year old had spent his entire life in the sprawling Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, with his family having fled strife-torn Sudan before he was born.

Luckily, Awer had a distraction from the hardship. Impromptu barefoot matches on the rough and unforgiving red-earth were a daily occurrence. Little else mattered.

A world away – both physically and figuratively – and on a very different playing surface, another football contest was taking place.

In Sydney, Australia experienced its ultimate football milestone moment by qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™, ending a tortuous 32-year absence from the game’s greatest stage. John Aloisi’s winning penalty changed football Down Under with a single kick, with the achievement becoming a touchstone for Australian sport.

Young Awer knew nothing of this. News from the outside world was rare, and there were more pressing matters to be considered amidst a hand-to-mouth existence.

Yet this wide-eyed little boy from east Africa would, almost unimaginably, eventually become part of the Socceroos’ story. A couple of months after Australia qualified for Germany 2006, Mabil’s family moved Down Under.

Fast forward to the present day and he is an Australia international. Not only did he debut for the national team last month, but he scored within minutes of entering the field as a second-half substitute.

Also making his debut that day in Kuwait City was Thomas Deng, another Sudanese refugee. Incredibly, the pair went to the same school in Adelaide and played for the same junior club. Almost inevitably, Deng played a crucial role in setting up Mabil’s goal.