Hundreds of children have taken part in the opening ceremony of their World Cup camp in rebel-held north-west Syria.
More than 300 children in rebel-held northwest Syria began their international soccer game on Saturday, as organizers hope to shine a light on areas hit by the 11-year war.
The happy children took part in the opening ceremony at a stadium in Idlib, some wearing the jerseys of this year’s World Cup teams, AFP reports.
Their 32 teams correspond to the countries that participated in the World Cup, which starts on Sunday in Qatar, and their tournament opened with a match between the host country and Ecuador, showing their plan.
“I’m representing Spain and I hope we win the cup,” said Bassel Sheikho, 12, who works in a garage.
While children from refugee camps in Idlib and surrounding areas make up 25 groups, another seven groups are children who work in factories in the area.
Syria’s war has killed nearly half a million people and displaced millions since it began in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
The Idlib region is home to about three million people, nearly half of whom have fled their homes.
Children between the ages of 10 and 14 have been training for months to take part in “World Cup camps”, said Ibrahim Sarmini from the NGO Violet, which organized the tournament.
He said that the event was aimed at encouraging children to participate in sports, and to “focus the attention of all countries on young refugees and those who work”, who are sometimes among those who face deadly threats.
The last area of opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad includes large parts of Idlib province and the neighboring areas of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.
The Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militia, led by the former al-Qaeda in Syria, is the most prevalent in the region but other rebel groups are also active.
The “World Cup camps” will continue for the duration of the official games, and the final will be organized in the camp in Idlib.
Sarmini said that the winter season was set to start in earnest, with rains expected to bring more misery to the poverty camps.
“I hope the whole world will turn to the refugees and help them return to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.