As today – 20 June – marks World Refugee Day, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) celebrates the courage, perseverance and hope of the 65.6 million refugees and other displaced people across the world, and how sport can contribute to their healing and social inclusion.
An example of such hope and resilience being sparked by sport is the story of six Eritrean refugees. Separated while in exile, these childhood friends have, more than a year later, reunited, and are today finding confidence in cycling as they rebuild their friendship in Addis Ababa. Among the 20,000-or-so refugees that have settled in Ethiopia’s capital city, these motivated young sportsmen support and inspire each other every day to push on amidst the chaotic traffic and challenging circumstances, in the hope of one day becoming professional.
A HISTORY AND SYMBOLIC TEAM OF REFUGEES
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that more than 65 million people have been forced from their homes by war, famine and other man-made and natural disasters. Distressingly, young people under the age of 18 make up over half of those numbers, with young refugees facing a unique set of challenges in terms of their emotional, physical and educational development. To raise awareness of the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the IOC established the Refugee Olympic Team – the first of its kind. Taking part in last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, these 10 athletes acted as a symbol of hope and peace for refugees across the globe.
Beyond the Olympic Games, the IOC continues to support these athletes day by day through its Olympic Solidarity Refugee Athletes Support Programme, to help them to build their future. Syrian swimmer and Refugee athlete Yusra Mardini has also gone on to become the youngest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, at the age of 19, and will continue to lend her voice to refugees.
A LONG-STANDING SOLIDARITY WITH REFUGEES
The IOC and UNHCR have long recognised the importance of sport and recreational activities for young refugees’ well-being, healing and development, especially children. For the past two decades, the two organisations have been using sport in camps across the globe to offer refugees some relief and enjoyment. They have also been raising the profile of youth refugees and the impact of sport as a tool for peace and an inclusive society, with the support of IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Youth Refugees and Sport. Consequently, thousands of refugees have already benefitted from sports programmes and from equipment donated by the IOC.
The Olympic Solidarity Refugee Athletes Support Programme in turn offers the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) the opportunity to identify and support a limited number of refugee athletes living in their countries to prepare and participate in high-level competitions. The programme is available to all the NOCs of countries hosting refugees and wishing to join the IOC in its effort to support and protect athletes.
Following the successful participation of the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio, the IOC continues to stand #WithRefugees, and is working on defining the “safe places” programme, as announced by the IOC President at the UN General Assembly in October 2016. In cooperation with the United Nations, this initiative will help improve the quality of life of displaced and disadvantaged children and young people worldwide by developing safe places for them to play sport and form a pathway to social, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Watch three inspiring stories of courage, perseverance and hope below:
For more information on World Refugee Day, visit www.unhcr.org/refugeeday.