Today – 20 June – is World Refugee Day. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) commemorates the strength, courage and perseverance of the over 50 million refugees across the world, and how sport can contribute to their healing.
One example of this is the story of nine year-old Solaf, a Syrian refugee living with her parents and older brother in the UN refugee camp of Azraq in Jordan. Originally from the town of Bosra in southern Syria, she and her family fled in 2013, after their home was partially destroyed in a missile strike. Despite everything she has been through, Solaf is a happy and lively child, who loves playing sports with her friends in the camp.
“I love taekwondo, football, volleyball, basketball and skipping,” says the young girl. “I’m learning taekwondo so that I can defend myself when my brother is not around. I can almost do the splits, just a bit more to go.”
HOPE AND SOLIDARITY FOR REFUGEES
The IOC and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 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. Consequently, thousands of refugees have already benefitted from sports programmes and from equipment donated by the IOC.
Last year, the IOC announced it was making available to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) an emergency two-million dollar fund for programmes focused on refugees. In addition, it called upon NOCs to identify any refugee athlete affected by this worldwide crisis with the potential to qualify for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Such candidates could then receive funding from Olympic Solidarity to assist with their preparations and qualification efforts.
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that, despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”
The nomination of IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Youth Refugees and Sport in 2014 has become a further means to help raise the profile of youth refugees and the impact of sport as a tool for peace and an inclusive society. The Special Envoy recently concluded a mission in Rwanda, where he pledged increased support to youth and sport projects in six refugee camps across the country in order to better protect refugee adolescents and young adults.
GIVING REFUGEES A VOICE
Since 2004, the IOC and UNHCR have also organised a Giving is Winning programme in the run-up to each edition of the Summer Olympic Games. The programme consists of a global solidarity and awareness-raising campaign towards athletes and officials at Rio 2016, who will be able to learn more about the plight of refugees via an immersive experience at a dedicated Giving is Winning booth at the IOC Space in the Olympic Village. The objective: encourage them to stand with refugees and give them their voice.
For more information on World Refugee Day, visit www.unhcr.org/refugeeday.