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Irish Sports Stars stand #WithRefugees on World Refugee Day

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Irish Sports Stars stand #WithRefugees on World Refugee Day

Everyone can make a difference.

Every action counts.

Everyone counts.
17 June 2020
Olympic track and field athlete Marian Heffernan



As the easing of Covid-19 restrictions continue, Irish athletes from across a range of sports are inviting people to stand with refugees and join a ‘social distancing’ exercise class this 20 June, World Refugee Day. Sports stars including Tom Barr, Ciara McGeehan, Patience Jumbo Gula, Sonia O'Sullivan  and Brian Fenton are calling on people to stretch, squat and plank in a special online class with Olympic rower Claire Lambe, the 10th such class organised during the Covid-9 pandemic.

Claire Lambe: “Over the last 10 weeks, the Sanctuary Strength classes have been a way to connect with our friends in direct provision. We’re now asking people to join us on Saturday morning, June 20th for a half hour of online exercise. Amongst those taking part will be Sanctuary Runners currently living in Direct Provision centres in Ireland and other participants from across the world.”

Founded in 2018, Sanctuary Runners organise meet-ups which enable Irish residents to run, jog or walk alongside, and in solidarity with, asylum-seekers and refugees in Direct Provision. The movement now has over 2,000 runners around Ireland running and exercising as one in solidarity, friendship and respect.

Graham Clifford: “For most asylum-seekers and refugees social distancing in centres is all but impossible. People share dining areas, tight hallways, bathing and toileting facilities and bedrooms. Its stressful. But through the #SanctuaryStrength initiative we’ve been able to connect with refugees every week, we exercise together, chat online throughout and motivate each other to keep going. Our motto is ‘Lets Come Back Stronger’”.




Sanctuary Runner Busie Mhlophe



World Refugee Day, held on 20 June each year, honours the courage and determination of those who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict and persecution. As countries begin to emerge from lockdowns imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to promote solidarity between all people — a solidarity based on the human rights and human dignity of all.

Enda O’Neill, UNHCR: “The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us that everyone, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. However, it has also shown us that our strength as a community lies in our solidarity. No one is safe until everyone is safe. The crisis has shown us that we each have a role to play. Everyone can make a difference, Every Action Counts.”

At a time when people around the world are rallying against racism and xenophobia, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to reassert the fundamental principles of equality and dignity for all. People who are persecuted because of their beliefs or characteristics – including their race – have a right to be protected.

Perry Ogden, SARI: ““Our thoughts are with the more than 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and especially the many refugees and asylum-seekers in Ireland who are living in a state of flux. We are most disappointed not to be able to host our annual World Refugee Day Fair Play Cup with UNHCR Ireland this year due to Covid-19 but are very happy to support - in solidarity, friendship and respect - the wonderful work being done by Sanctuary Runners.”  


Note to editors:

How do I join the class?

You can join the class by clicking on this live YouTube link from 11am on Saturday, 20 June.

Sanctuary Runners


The Sanctuary Runner Movement was named as one of Europe’s leading Solidarity-through-Sports initiatives at the 2019 #BeInclusive Awards by the European CommissionThere are now Sanctuary Runner groups across Ireland in Dublin, Wicklow, Meath, Longford, Westmeath, Monaghan, Waterford, Cork City, Mallow, Killarney, Tralee, Kenmare, Limerick, Clare, Mayo, Galway and Sligo.



UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organisation dedicated to saving lives and protecting the rights of refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

It works to ensure that everybody has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge, having fled violence, persecution, war or disaster at home.


Sport Against Racism Ireland


SARI is a not-for-profit, volunteer-driven social enterprise with charitable status dedicated to using sport as a medium to promote social inclusion, cultural integration, global development and peacebuilding at home and abroad; while addressing the issues that violate human rights such as racism, sectarianism, homophobia, conflict and all forms of discrimination.”