Celebrating #TeamRefugee at the Olympics and at Home

Author: Ruth Osorio (LSS/NCA Guest Blogger)

The opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics is tomorrow, August 5. On that night, many of us will watch in wonder and pride as hundreds of athletes march under their nation’s flag. I’ve always loved the Olympic games—in fact, as a fifth grader, I wrote about my admiration of five-time gold medalist Bonnie Blair for a school assignment. The Olympics bring out the best of us, asking viewers to celebrate both patriotism for our country and the interconnection of the world.

But the theme of patriotism—with flags waving and national anthems playing throughout the games—leaves out 21.3 million people across the globe, the number of refugees worldwide estimated by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC).  Thus, for the first time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has welcomed a new team to the games: Team Refugee, comprised of ten refugee athletes who will walk under the Olympic flag Friday night.

refugee olympic
Image: a collage of the faces of the 10 members of Team Refugee with the Olympic rings imposed upon the image

For many of the ten athletes, their sport is not just a means to compete in the Olympics but also their method of survival. As Aimee Lewis reports for the BBC, Yusra Mardini swam not just for the Olympic trials but also the lives of twenty Syrian refugees fleeing to Greece. For three and a half hours, Mardini and her sister, Sarah, pulled the broken dinghy in the wild waters of the Mediterranean. Mardini remembers, “Everyone was just grey on the way. It was like my life was passing through my eyes. We put the rope around our hands because even I couldn’t swim in the sea with waves like that.”

For Team Refugee, a medal is not the only thing on the line: they are competing to show the world the humanity, the resilience, and the courageous hope of refugees. Runner Yiech Pur Biel, who fled Southern Sudan at the age of 11, tells the UNHCR, “We will show that even though we are refugees, we are still human beings.” Thomas Bach, IOC President, shares Pur Biel’s hope, saying that the team “will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area will be cheering loudly and proudly for the ten athletes competing under the Olympic flag. Since October 2015, our organization has resettled nearly 800 refugees—the highest number ever recorded since the refugee program started forty years ago. As the worldwide refugee crisis continues to force millions of people out of their homes, our work increases, and it’s only possible with the support and advocacy of our neighbors in the National Capital Area. We hope you will join us in not only welcoming Team Refugee onto the Olympic stage but also welcoming the refugees these athletes represent into our neighborhoods and communities.

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