The Journey @UNHCR
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Racing for hope

Australia for UNHCR advocates for inclusion in sport by celebrating the strength of refugee and Para athletes.

What does it feel like to run for your life?

A new video released by UNHCR dramatises the arduous journey refugee athletes and Para athletes have taken – from escaping war and persecution to training for a chance to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Journey presents a fictional story of a young woman forced to flee her country to escape violence. As gunfire erupts, she takes off through dusty roads wearing flip-flops. After a dangerous journey by land and sea to reach safety, she endures challenges as a refugee in a strange country, before finding purpose through sport.

The film was made in collaboration with two International Olympic Committee (IOC) Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders, who are among more than 60 refugee athletes and Para athletes training for the chance to compete in the Tokyo Games this year.

The Journey. @UNHCR
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Yusra Mardini during a training session in Germany. The Mardini sisters fled war in Syria by making a perilous journey by boat in 2015. Yusra represented Syria at the world championships in Turkey in 2012 and she competed in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. @UNHCR/Gordon Welters

Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a refugee from South Sudan who carried the flag for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, advised on the video. Rose fled tribal warfare in South Sudan with her family when she was just eight years old.

They eventually found safety at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya which UNHCR runs in conjunction with the Kenyan government and Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs. It’s here that Rose made friends through football.

In 2015, when the IOC Refugee Olympic Team held trials at the camp, a teacher suggested Rose enter the 10,000 metres race. It earned her a spot on the Refugee Olympic Team, for which she competed in the 800 metres race at Rio the following year.

Now a high-profile supporter for UNHCR, Rose advocates for bringing educational and sports opportunities to refugee children. Rose now lives and trains at the Tegla Loroupe Refugee Athletes’ Training Centre in Ngong, near the capital Nairobi.

“When we marched into Maracanã Stadium [in Rio]…people were really welcoming us… We felt like we were human beings,” Rose said. “Sport has the power to change the life of others, especially displaced people.”

The IOC and UNHCR created the Refugee Olympic Team in 2016, which initially comprised of ten athletes from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games a small team of refugee athletes, known as the Independent Paralympic Athletes team, participated for the first time. UNHCR and the International Paralympic Committee have been working together since 2016 to provide refugees with life-changing access to Para sports and ensure a more inclusive and equal world.

The Journey was created for UNHCR and partners by award winning agency Don’t Panic, and directed by Pantera through Anonymous Content. The video was released on 6 April, the UN’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

Australia for UNHCR is proud to celebrate inclusion in sports at our 2021 World Refugee Day event on Friday 18 June from 12pm-2pm. The event will be livestreamed to allow supporters to join from anywhere in Australia and around the world.

See here to register and for more information.

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Ibrahim al-Hussein (left), a 27 year old refugee from Syria, lost part of his right leg during a bombing of his hometown Deir ez-Zor. He carried the Olympic Flame in Athens as part of the torch relay for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. "It is an honour," said Ibrahim. "Imagine achieving one of your biggest dreams. Imagine that your dream of more than 20 years is becoming a reality." @UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

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