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While the World Cup brings soccer teams from different countries together in Brazil, the sport also united Buffalo’s immigrants and refugees on the pitch.

Twelve teams celebrated World Refugee Day 2014 on Saturday with an international soccer tournament at LaSalle Park.

The fifth annual event pitted teams of immigrants from Bhutan, Congo, Ethiopia, Laos, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam.

“All the different immigrant communities who live in Buffalo come together and celebrate their accomplishments,” said Riyam Wannas, a volunteer with Buffalo Immigrant and Refugee Empowerment Coalition (BIREC), which organizes the event. “Every single community here has gone through so much – so much struggle to be here and also so much struggle to establish a new life. It’s not easy, and we’re here to celebrate that.”

Added Ali Kadhum, an immigrant from Iraq and BIREC’s president, “When the community comes together, they will learn from each other. They will share the challenge and success, and also they empower each other.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown attended the tournament and applauded BIREC’s efforts.

“The teams that play, play with a lot of pride and everybody ultimately wants to win first prize in this tournament,” he said.

Why hold a soccer tournament on World Refugee Day?

“Soccer brings everybody together,” Wannas said. She emigrated from Iraq about five years ago and is an undergraduate student at the University at Buffalo.

Deborah Lynn Williams, CEO of YWCA of Western New York, which sponsors the event with Delaware Soccer Club, said the World Cup adds to the excitement.

“When people say how do you decide what you’re going to do for World Refugee Day, what is it that everybody knows about?” she asked. “Soccer really is that international thing, that language. Even if none of these people can speak to one another in words, they all know what’s going on on the field.”

The World Refugee Day Celebration continues from 3 to 7 p.m. today with YWCA of WNY hosting an ethnic festival featuring free, live entertainment and a potluck of international dishes at 1005 Grant St.

email: scampbell@buffnews.com