ATHENS, Greece -- Many of the players at Hestia FC weren't allowed to play — or even watch — soccer matches in their home countries.
In Greece, they make up the country's first women's refugee team and hail from 14 countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
At a recent practice, team founder Katerina Salta and her coach go through instructions with the help of a translator who speaks English, Urdu, Pashto, Dari and Farsi.
"The atmosphere in the team is fantastic," Salta said. "I started this program to empower them but what actually happens is that every single day I get empowered by them — their will, their (determination) to continue trying for their lives even in such difficult conditions."
More than a million migrants and refugees crossed through Greece and onto other parts of Europe in 2015 and 2016 and the country is still struggling to manage its refugee crisis using a network of camps on five Aegean Sea islands as well as the mainland.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, known as the UNHCR, says there were 76,100 pending asylum claims in Greece at the end of 2018, in a report prepared for World Refugee Day on Thursday.
Hestia FC was set up by the Olympic Truce Centre, a non-government organization created in 2000 by the International Olympic Committee and Greek Foreign Ministry. The team took part in the Global Goals World Cup in Denmark last month — a five-a-side international women's tournament aimed at promoting gender equality.
None of the migrant women were allowed to travel and were represented by mostly Greek volunteers who agreed to play in their place.
Unexpectedly, they won the tournament.
"It's a (vindication) of our fight to get them travel permits," Salta said. "To let them know how many people they inspire."
Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report.
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