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Australian national team player Awer Mabil is the winner of the 2018 FIFPro Merit Award for his work supporting refugees.

The FC Midtjylland striker, who was born in a refugee camp, was honoured at the FIFPro General Assembly in Rome.

“My aim is to make refugees’ lives easier, to make them realize that their dreams can come true,” Mabil said via video message during the presentation of the award. “They just want an opportunity to be seen and don’t want to be isolated.”

The Merit Award comes with a $25,000 (USD) cheque for Mabil to use for his charity’s initiatives.

Mabil was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 1995, one year after his parents fled from Sudan. In 2006 his family emigrated to Australia.

Eight years later, he and his brother Awer Bul returned to the camp, which is currently home to more than 185,000 refugees. They saw that all children played football barefoot and decided to establish a charity to provide these kids with boots.

Their charity, Barefoot to Boots, has developed into an organization which supplies children with boots and jerseys, as well as supporting education and healthcare.

“Awer Mabil’s Barefoot to Boots is a brilliant program,” said Tony Higgins, the Scottish PFA president who is the spokesman of the Merit Award jury. “He is doing a tremendous job in trying to bring hope and improved quality of life to unfortunate people from many African countries.”

“People do not voluntarily choose to become a refugee, most of them are forced to flee their homes due to life-threatening circumstances for themselves or their family. Living in a refugee camp is extremely difficult and sad. A simple thing such as playing football can bring much needed happiness.”

Mabil says he is considering allocating the $25,000 of the FIFPro Merit Award towards building a youth centre or towards providing scholarships for refugees in the Kakuma camp.

“I want to help refugees through football because football has given me so much,” he said. 

Photo caption: PFA Australia's John Didulica (chairman) and Simon Colosimo receive the Merit Award on behalf of Awer Mabil from FIFPro's Tony Higgins (middle).