The United Nations refugee agency has warmly welcomed today’s announcement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of the refugees who will compete as a team in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The team includes two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and six runners from Ethiopia and South Sudan, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlighted in a press release, noting that all of the members of the team have fled violence and persecution in their countries and sought refuge in places as wide-ranging as Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Kenya and Brazil.
“We are very inspired by the Refugee Olympic Athletes team – having had their sporting careers interrupted, these high-level refugee athletes will finally have the chance to pursue their dreams,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“Their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families. UNHCR stands with them and with all refugees,” he added.
UNHCR stressed that the initiative comes at a time when more people than ever are being forced by conflict and persecution into fleeing their homes, underscoring that the global population of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers reached a record 59.5 million at the end of 2014 and has continued rising since.
“The initiative to send a refugee team to the Rio Games is unprecedented and sends a strong message of support and hope for refugees worldwide,” UNHCR said.
UNHCR also said that the participation of a refugee team in the Olympics represents a major milestone in its long-standing partnership with the IOC.
“This relationship, which dates back 20 years, has been instrumental in promoting the role of sports in the development and well-being of refugees, particularly children, all over the world,” UNHCR said.
In addition, UNHCR noted that, through joint projects, the organizations have supported youth programmes and sporting activities in at least 20 countries, rehabilitated sporting fields in several refugee camps, and provided sports kits to refugee youth.
The announcement of the refugee team coincides with the launch of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees campaign, which is an integral element of the UNHCR-IOC partnership for the 2016 Rio Games. The cornerstone of the campaign is a petition asking governments to ensure that every refugee child gets an education, that every refugee family has somewhere safe to live, and that every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community, UNHCR said.
The petition will be handed in before the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants, scheduled for 19 September in New York.