Yiech Pur Biel is a South Sudanese track and field refugee athlete living in Kenya. He was forced to flee war in South Sudan in 2005 at the age of 10, leaving his parents and arriving alone to Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. He developed a talent for football, overcoming the challenges of training in the sweltering heat with no facilities, and was recognised for having athletic ability during trials to identify refugee athletes.
In 2016 Pur made history by competing for the first Refugee Olympic Team in the 800m event at the Rio Summer Olympics in Brazil. Pur explained that competing could help him to be an ambassador for refugees everywhere: “I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education but also in running, you can change the world.”
Since Rio, Pur has competed in various sporting competitions across Kenya and Africa. Pur continues to represent refugees on the global athletics stage, most recently participating in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Pur has become a committed supporter of UNHCR’s work. In September 2016 he helped to amplify the voices of refugees by urging 193 nations at the UN General Assembly to support UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, via an historic hand-in ceremony in New York. He has also travelled to Paris with UNHCR, visiting the restaurant of Mohammed el-Khaldy - a Syrian chef who has been given asylum in France – and learning about a program set up to send presents to refugee children.
These actions build on Pur's wider work as a powerful advocate for the refugee cause. In 2018 Pur was a key speaker at the first ever TedX event to be hosted in a refugee camp – TEDxKakumaCamp. He has also been appointed as a member of the Olympic Refugee Foundation - whose goal is to create safe and accessible sports facilities in areas where there are refugees and displaced communities - and continues to receive awards and recognition for his work representing refugees worldwide.
Most recently, Pur, together with Yusra Mardini – another refugee Olympian, and on behalf of the Refugee Olympic Team, received the International Crisis Group (ICG)’s Stephen J. Solarz Award at their In Pursuit of Peace Award Dinner in New York. Pur later addressed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates before the annoucement that a refugee Olympic team will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Games, following the ground-breaking debut of refugee athletes at Rio 2016.