Of the world’s 82.4 million refugees, 15 per cent – or 12 million people – live with a disability. Bringing attention to this group this month will be six athletes who have been selected as part of the Refugee Paralympic Team.
The members of the Tokyo team include Syrian refugees Alia Issa (para-athletics, club throw), Ibrahim Al Hussein (para-swimming), and Anas Al Khalifa (para-canoe), along with Parfait Hakizimana (para-taekwondo) of Burundi, Abbas Karimi (para-swimming) of Afghanistan, and Shahrad Nasajpour (para-athletics, discus) of Iran.
The team follows the path forged by the Refugee Olympic Team, which was introduced at the 2016 Rio Olympics, amid the global “refugee crisis” of 2015/2016. This year, 29 Olympic athletes competed in 12 sports under the Refugee banner. In 2021, the expansion of refugee representation in international sport continues. (Two paralympians did compete in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, though under an independent banner.)
“It’s with enormous joy that I cheer on the Refugee Paralympic Team in the Opening Ceremony and throughout the competitions,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. “Their presence on the world stage at this Paralympic Games marks a historic moment of representation for over 12 million displaced people living with a disability around the world.”
The sole woman on the team, Syrian Alia Issa, is of course by default also the first female refugee Paralympian, seeing as this is the first refugee Paralympic team. She hopes, however, not to be the last.
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