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Refugee Paralympic Team

Refugee Paralympic Team

Six refugees join the Refugee Paralympic Team to spread a message of inclusion and solidarity. This summer, they are representing more than 82 million people who were forced to flee – 12 million of which are with disabilities – at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “These athletes exemplify how change starts with sport: they have suffered life-changing injuries, fled for their safety and undertaken dangerous journeys, but despite the many barriers put in their way, they have become elite athletes ready to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, works in partnership with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), to support refugees with disabilities who, despite challenges of displacement and the COVID-19 pandemic, have continued to train to keep their dreams of competing in Tokyo alive.

The Refugee Paralympic Team is competing in Para athletics, Para swimming, Para canoe, and Para taekwondo. They inspire millions worldwide and shine a light on the power of sport to help displaced people – with or without disabilities – rebuild their lives.

Meet the Refugee Paralympic Team members


Alia Issa (Sport: Club throw)

Alia Issa, 20, is the first female refugee Para-athlete. As the youngest member of the team, Alia has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

When Alia was four years old, she contracted smallpox, resulting in brain damage that left her with difficulties in moving as well as intellectual impairment. Besides, she was bullied by people due to her disability, but with her father’s support, Alia surpassed all the challenges step by step. Her father often encouraged her that she could achieve anything she wanted if she worked hard and this inspired her to dream big. 

Alia attended a school only for students with disabilities, where she found sports. Later she was introduced to the sport of club throwing. Alia encourages others who share a similar background to stay active, as sport gave her a sense of independence. She envisions that her father would feel “very proud and very happy” if he was alive to witness her achievement.

(image © Getty images / Milos Bicanski)


Parfait Hakizimana (Sport: Taekwondo)

Parfait Hakizimana, a Burundian refugee, is a professional Taekwondo athlete with countless awards and medals. He set up a Taekwondo club to let children in the Mahama Refugee Camp, Rwanda, enjoy the joy of sport.

Parfait once lived in the shadow of violence and conflict. His mother unfortunately lost her life in an attack. He was only eight years old at that time. Though he survived the attack, his left arm was permanently debilitated because of a gunshot. After fleeing Burundi, Parfait had to deal with the compounded stress of losing his mother, his arm, and his community, but his resilience helped him overcome the challenges.

Parfait’s love for Taekwondo has given him a purpose in life. He credits the values of respect, friendship, and competitiveness promoted by Taekwondo with helping him to find his own place in a new country. Now, Parfait is representing the Refugee Paralympic Team at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. He continues to train refugee children living in the camp, inspiring new generations through sport.

(image © UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana)

Ibrahim Al Hussein (Sport: Swimming)

Ibrahim Al Hussein is from Syria, where civil wars have persisted for a decade. He has been through an accident that changed his life. While Ibrahim was fleeing the violence in Syria, his friend was injured by a gunshot in an attack. Ibrahim bravely helped his debilitated friend and continued the journey together. Both of them ran away from danger eventually, but Ibrahim’s right leg was severely injured in a bomb explosion and had to be amputated.

Ibrahim has been good at swimming since he was a child. Even though he had lowered mobility, he did not give up on his dream after the attack. He worked tirelessly and was finally selected to be a member of the Refugee Paralympic Team. “I want every refugee to have opportunities in sport. I can't imagine life without sports," Ibrahim said.

(image © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis)