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UNHCR relays refugee message at Olympics opening

UNHCR relays refugee message at Olympics opening

As a torch bearer of the Olympic flame to the Athens stadium, UNHCR's representative in Greece highlights the link between the Olympic spirit and the refugee agency's work. UNHCR has also launched a campaign encouraging participants to donate sportswear for refugees and returnees.
13 August 2004
Workers sift through the ruins of Gatumba transit centre.

ATHENS, Greece, Aug 13 (UNHCR) - Robert White is running for refugees.

As the UN refugee agency's representative in Greece, he is one of 7,700 people who have been asked to carry the Olympic torch as it completes its journey to the Olympic stadium in Athens today.

"I am proud to run - for my spouse and family, for my UNHCR colleagues, for the Olympic values, and for refugees, as part of the universal values and humanity we share," said White at the opening of the XXVIII Olympic Games that run from August 13-29.

For UNHCR, this is a way to link refugees, especially refugee youth, with sports and the overall spirit of the Olympics. The relationship revolves around three values - heritage (the return of the Olympic flame and games to Greece), hospitality (Greek people's receptivity towards foreigners, including refugees) and humanity (central to the Olympics and to refugee work).

"These values are closely related to the central refugee concept of asylum," said White. "In addition, the fact that the Athens 2004 Olympic torch relay is the first-ever global journey of the flame illustrates the global scope of refugee work."

In a separate initiative, UNHCR and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday launched the "Giving is Winning" campaign encouraging international athletes, coaches, officials and other members of the Olympic family to donate sports wear and casual clothes for refugees and returnees in Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kosovo.

"If each athlete or Olympic family member were to donate one piece of clothing, over 10,000 refugees in the world would benefit," said the UNHCR representative, noting that the project is focused on refugee children and youth, who make up nearly half of people of concern to UNHCR.

Dr. Jacques Rogge, IOC president, said, "We are very proud to be associated with UNHCR. Sport is much more than a physical activity, much more than a competition between athletes. It is a social movement with a social responsibility."

The IOC has already informed National Olympic Committees about the campaign. Donations so far include sports gear and equipment from the United States committee to refugees in Tanzania, and 4,000 pieces of sports clothing from Daimler-Chrysler for Afghanistan.