The Summer Olympic Games are set to launch in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, and for the first time ever there will be a team composed entirely of refugees, shining a light on the global refugee crisis and providing hope for displaced people.
The groundbreaking team of refugees will compete along with over 200 represented countries. The first team of its kind is made up of ten athletes originally from South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. They will compete in swimming, judo, and various track and field events. The team plans to appear in the opening ceremonies under the Olympic flag and will march to the Olympic anthem.
The inclusion of a refugee team at the Olympics is a gesture in respect of human rights and the evolving status of national boundaries during this period of unprecedented violence. The International Olympic Committee hopes that it will galvanize nations to be more compassionate and accepting of refugees.
“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 the crisis,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”
“We still are humans. We are not only refugees. We are like everyone in the world. We can do something. We can achieve something,” said Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who will compete in swimming. “We didn’t choose to leave our homelands. We didn’t choose the name of refugees . . . . We promise again that we are going to do what it takes to inspire everyone.”
The formation of this team comes in the midst of a global refugee crisis. Conflict around the world has led to an increase in the flow of people across borders in search of safety, the likes of which have not been seen since directly after World War II. Thousands have perished attempting to cross the Mediterranean and millions of displaced people currently inhabit refugee camps. Meanwhile, the United States and countries across Europe struggle to find a political solution that will grant sanctuary to them all.