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UNHCR celebrates trailblazing team of refugee Para athletes at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

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UNHCR celebrates trailblazing team of refugee Para athletes at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

23 August 2021
The Paralympic Symbol installed for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, sends its best wishes to the Refugee Paralympic Team ahead of the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo on Tuesday. The team sends a message of hope to the more than 82 million displaced people around the world, including an estimated 12 million living with a disability. 

Representing the team as flagbearers in the Opening Ceremony are club thrower Alia Issa and swimmer Abbas Karimi who, as a High Profile Supporter for UNHCR, advocates for displaced people around the world. The Refugee Paralympic Team will be first to enter Japan’s Olympic Stadium for the Athlete’s Parade during the ceremony and will compete under the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) flag throughout the games. 

They will be the first official Refugee team to participate in the Paralympic Games, following the inclusion of two refugee athletes in the Rio 2016 Games under the banner of the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team. The team is made up of six refugee athletes from four host countries competing in five Paralympic sports. Their participation helps to challenge stigma and negative perceptions of displaced people, including those who live with disabilities.  

“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.”

“Those displaced who are living with a disability can be at heightened risk of discrimination, violence, and exploitation,” added Grandi. “Despite these immense challenges, refugees living with disabilities are agents for positive change and leaders in their communities, including in the field of Para-sport. They deserve equal access and opportunities to excel.  I will be proudly cheering for the Refugee Paralympic Team as they inspire the world with their perseverance and talent.”

UNHCR works with and for displaced people living with disabilities to ensure they have access to vital services and opportunities. The Agency has been working with the IPC since 2016 to help provide refugees with life-changing access to Para sport and to ensure a more inclusive and equal world.  

Sport can help reduce stigma and discrimination, challenge assumptions about what displaced persons with disabilities can and cannot do, ensure inclusion and empower them. Sport also helps displaced persons living with a disability to achieve greater physical and mental well-being.

"I have said it before and I will say it again – the Refugee Paralympic Team are the most courageous sports team in the world," said Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee. 

"When you see the incredible journey that these athletes have made to get to Tokyo, you truly understand how change can start with sport. And in the same week that we launched WeThe15, it is important to give persons with disabilities a voice and a presence – at Tokyo 2020, the Refugee Paralympic Team will proudly speak up and represent the 12 million displaced people who have a disability."

Together with the IPC and other partners, UNHCR is leading a global call for a world in which all displaced people, including those with disabilities, can equally access and participate in sport.

Notes for editors:  

For media interviews with the athletes please contact [email protected].    

For profiles of all athletes, click here.

For more about the announcement of the team click here.

For a UNHCR spokesperson, please contact:

Geneva – Aikaterini Kitidi, [email protected] 
New York – Alicia Hosking, [email protected] 
Japan – Deanna Bitetti, [email protected]


For images of the Refugee Paralympic Team click here


For The Journey video, depicting the stories of the Refugee Team, click here.