On Wednesday 3 August 2016, just two days before the opening ceremonies, history was made in the Olympic Village when a team of 10 refugee athletes , the first ever refugee arrived to compete at the Rio 2016 in RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil from 5 to 21 August 2016.
Amidst cheers, dancing and music at the special welcoming ceremonies, hundreds of athletes from other countries joined by the media from all around the world were not only there to greet the ten young men and women who fled their countries in search of protection but rather ten talented athletes who never gave up and had come to fully participate in the 2016 Summer Games as a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees (UNHCR).
Athletes dance at the Rio Opening ceremony
Representing Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all of the athletes shared an enthusiastic desire that their refugee status not define them.
The ten Refugees who represented #Team Refugees
“We still are humans,” said Yusra Mardini, 18, from Syria. “We are not only refugees; we are like everyone in the world.”
Just like the other delegations, the refugee team competed under the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem was played in their honor. The team also stayed in the athletes’ village accompanied by an entourage of coaches, medical staff and other officials (Rio News).
Apart from Yusra Mardini, there were two judokas, a marathoner, one swimmer and five medium-distance runners. Their athletic prowess and resilience was a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees – at a time when the number of people displaced by violence and persecution is at the highest level since the Second World War (Rio2016 News).
During the closing ceremony as the Olympic Flag was symbolically passed to Japan which will hold the next games in 2020, flags were waved and fireworks exploded as thoughts turned to the future.
Both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which worked together to produce the Refugee Olympic Team, pledged to remain committed to supporting the athletes’ future and promoting sport among those driven from their homes by conflict and persecution.
In his official closing address, IOC President Thomas Bach said:
“Thank you, dear refugee athletes. You have inspired us with your talent and human spirit. You are a symbol of hope to the millions of refugees in the world. We will continue to stay at your side after these Olympic Games.”
UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements, who also attended the closing ceremony, praised its members for helping to change world’s perception of refugees and displaced 65 million persons.
“This team has captured the world’s attention and in a short period of time, changed the conversation about refugees… There is no doubt that they have left a legacy with their presence at these Olympic Games, but they have also inspired all of us to do more to work for peace and help those forced to flee,” she said.
“These athletes were true Olympians – they cheered on others, they made friends with people from all over the world,” she said. “The IOC and UNHCR will continue to work together to provide opportunities for these refugee athletes and others.”