© UNHCR/ Benjamin Loyseau
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The refugee athletes going for gold at Tokyo Olympics

For a second time in Olympic history, a team of refugee athletes are participating in the Olympic Games.

The Refugee Olympic team is made up of 29 inspiring athletes who have overcome persecution and conflict and trained for years for the chance to compete at the highest level.

The team, representing 11 countries across 12 different sports will be striving for gold while bringing attention to the plight of more than 82 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Together they will be sending a powerful message of solidarity and hope to the world while showcasing the power of sport to transform lives.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis, ” said Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee.

While this group of dedicated and hardworking athletes cannot compete for their home countries, the Refugee Team provides them with an opportunity to realise their Olympic dreams and compete against the world’s best. 

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Refugee athlete, Aram poses for a photo in Almere, Netherlands in June, 2019. Aram will represent the IOC's refugee team at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in badminton.© UNHCR/Bela Szandelszky

“It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society”

© UNHCR/ Benjamin Loyseau
Masomah, 25, is a road cyclist. Originally from Afghanistan, she spent her early years in exile in Iran. Following her return to Kabul, she went to high school and now studies engineering at university.  © UNHCR/ Benjamin Loyseau

Among this year’s selected group is Aram Mahmoud. The 23-year-old was a rising badminton star in his native Syria and competed for the national team before fleeing to the Netherlands to escape the conflict and continue his education and training in safety.

Aram says his local badminton club in Almere helped him settle into his new life in the Netherlands, allowing him to meet new friends and continue his sporting dreams.

Masomah Ali Zada, a 25-year-old road cyclist will also be hoping to impress in Tokyo. Masomah, born in Afghanistan, developed a passion for cycling at a young age. After spending her early years in exile in Iran, Masomah returned to Kabul, where she and other young women started a cycling group despite the disapproval of some conservative members of society. She eventually made the national cycling team.

Masomah’s family fled to France in 2017, following threats to their safety due to Masomah’s cycling and their status as members of the Hazara ethnic minority. Now living in Lille, Masomah balances training with her studies for a degree in civil engineering. She hopes to inspire other Afghan women and girls to follow their dreams.

This will be the second time a Refugee Team has participated in the Olympic Games, following the first at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. Amongst the 10 refugee athletes who went to Rio, is James Chiengjiek Nyang who will be representing refugees at the Olympics once more in athletics (400m).

At 13, James was forced to flee his home in Bentiu, South Sudan, to avoid being kidnapped by rebels who were forcibly recruiting child soldiers. In 2002, he arrived in Kenya and settled in UNHCR’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, attending a school known for its runners. He joined a group of older boys training for long-distance events.

In 2013, he caught the attention of Tegla Loroupe Foundation talent scouts during athletics trials, and joining them to train, went on to participate in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as part of the Refugee Olympic Team. James aims to inspire others, especially refugees, and hopes to use his success to help other refugees succeed.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, is pleased that refugee athletes will have the chance to compete in the Olympic Games for a second time.

“In 2016, the Rio Refugee Team captured the imagination of people around the world and showed the human side of the global refugee crisis through sport,” Grandi said in a statement. 

“I’m delighted that this tradition is to continue in Tokyo. Giving these exceptional young people the opportunity to compete at the very highest levels is admirable.”

Not only will refugee athletes be performing in the Olympic Games, but six athletes will represent the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The athletes, one woman and five men, will compete in Para athletics, Para swimming, Para canoe and Para taekwondo.

You can watch the refugee athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games from the 23 July to 8 August, followed by the Paralympic Games on the 24 August to 5 September. 

Follow us on Instagram @australiaforunhcr to see updates on when the Refugee Team will be competing.

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Abbas, an Afghan refugee swimmer who was born without arms is one of six athletes representing the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) that will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Swimming has shaped Abbas’ life. © Getty Images/Michael Reaves

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