Team Refugee: A symbol of hope, strength and perseverance for refugees worldwide 

10 August 2016

A team of ten refugees are in Rio de Janeiro to compete in this year’s Olympic Games, having formed the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. Whilst the refugees have no home country or flag to unite them, they represent the 65 million displaced people in the world and have become a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide.

Five of the ten refugees on the team grew up in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, some of whom are middle-distance runners originally from South Sudan. The team also includes two Syrian swimmers, two judokas who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a political refugee from Ethiopia who is a marathon runner.

This time last year, at 17 years old, Syrian Yusra Mardini was swimming for her life across the Mediterranean, also saving the lives of 20 others who were on the same boat. This year she swam as an Olympian and won her heat in the Women’s 100m butterfly. A letter from Pope Francis to Mardini and the other refugees read, “I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio – that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity. Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all.”

“Team Refugee” will not only raise awareness of the plight of the millions of displaced people around the world, but also displays the extraordinary talent, strength and resilience of humanity, regardless of ethnicity or background. It is hoped that the team’s inclusion in the Games will promote positive attitudes towards refugees and a wider recognition of the skills they have to offer, and the contributions they can make to society.

The team of refugees are not the only refugees to compete in the Olympics this year. Others who fled their homes and have since become citizens of other countries are taking part. For example, Eritrean refugee Tsegai Tewelde, who now lives in Glasgow, will represent Great Britain in the marathon, and Bosnian refugee Admir Cejvanovic will play for Canada in Rugby 7s.

Paulo Ueti, Anglican Alliance Facilitator for Latin America based in Brazil, has asked that the Anglican Communion worldwide pray for Brazil during the Olympics. He said, “I would like that people pray for the most vulnerable people in Brazil, particularly poor women, men and children and for the so-called minorities such as indigenous and quilombolas (descendants of slaves – black communities) and LGBT people who are being target[ed] and being murdered. Also for those churches in Brazil which are bravely standing advocating for justice, transparency and democracy.”

The Anglican Alliance has a commitment to promote peace and development through sport. Revd Andy Bowerman, co-executive director, says: “Last year we kicked off the Football for Development initiative with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. With the vast and growing population of young people in the world, sport is a perfect way for people to connect across boundaries and discover shared values and understanding as one human family.”

Christian Concern for One World (CCOW), have highlighted some prayer points for Team Refugee. Please pray:

– in thanksgiving for the hope shown in ‘Team Refugee’. Pray that the members of the team may be a sign of hope for all who are displaced and uncertain about their futures. Pray that the team may help to ‘change the story’ so that refugees are seen more as people than as statistics – and that their story may encourage more people to support and welcome refugees.

– for all families that have been fragmented by the need to flee conflict, as so many of ‘Team Refugee’s’ families have. Pray for reunifications that bring healing and new hope. Pray for people of good will working to help unite families – and especially those caring for and advocating for unaccompanied minors.

– for the people of Kakuma refugee camp and the people of Dadaab refugee camp, and especially for Christians and other minorities in Dadaab.

– for peace in South Sudan and Syria, for all who are working to establish humanitarian assistance for the beleaguered civilian population in both places, and for the ultimate triumph, by God’s grace, of justice, peace and love in these and other areas of conflict. Pray especially for wisdom and courage for the new peacekeeping force, which is due to be sent to South Sudan, and for those charged with making decisions on the issues around humanitarian corridors in Aleppo.

– for the people of Eritrea, suffering under dictatorship, and for political dissidents in Ethiopia.

You can read more about the ten athletes in Team Refugee here.