Refugee athletes from Kenya speak at global sports forums

“Being selected to receive the award on behalf of other refugee team members is a great honor”

L - R: Yusra Mardini from Syria, IOC President Thomas Bach, Pur Biel from South Sudan and ICG President & CEO Rob Malley during the ICG Stephen J. Solarz 'In Pursuit of Peace' Award ceremony. UNHCR/Lorey Campese

Refugee athlete Pur Biel from Kenya has had several speaking engagements and has been invited to several sporting events since taking part in the Rio Olympics 2016, as part of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team.  However, the invitation to receive an award in New York from the International Crisis Group (ICG), on behalf of the refugees that participated in the Rio was a very special moment, Pur says.

“Being selected to receive the award on behalf of other refugee team members is a great honor. Each sporting event and occasion is different. And being an ambassador through sport for the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people is something I take with all humility”.

Pur, originally from South Sudan was joined  by Yusra Mardini, another refugee Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador to receive the ICG Stephen J. Solarz Award at the organisation’s, In Pursuit of Peace’ dinner hosted in New York, United States.

L-R: Yusra Mardini and Pur Biel, refugee athletes who were part of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team display the awards, that were presented by with Tracy McGrady, renown American Basketball player. UNHCR/Lorey Campese

The award was presented by Tracy Mcgrady, a renowned American basketball player. It recognized the courageous use of sport to send a message of hope, and also recognized the refugee athletes for serving as global ambassadors for the rights of displaced people.

In their acceptance speeches Pur talked about the resilience and determination of refugees, and Yusra spoke about her journey, realizing dreams and the importance of refugees being seen as humans and not just as refugees.

“Hope and resilience enabled me to make it to the 2016 Olympic Games held in Rio, Brazil.”

“The same passion continues to drive me to be the voice for more than 68.5 million displaced persons that are now part of my family,” Pur added.

At a  different platform in Geneva, Switzerland, refugee athlete and Olympian Rose Nathike, also resident in Kenya and one of the Rio 2016  Refugee Olympic Team members in an event organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The event themed “Using sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all and to strengthen universal respect for them”, brought together Governments, sports governing bodies, philanthropists, business people, media personalities, athletes and UN staff.  Rose shared the story of her life from fleeing violence in South Sudan to finding refuge at Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. Rose also talked about her aspirations and those of other young refugees. She also appealed to world leaders to continue to support refugee youth to be involved in sports globally.

“The Olympic Games and sports in general has not only been an avenue to nurture my talent but a much needed voice to share my experiences. The involvement of the refugee community in sports continues to inspire the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people,’ Rose said.

Rose Nathike, refugee athlete and part of the first ever Olympic refugee team took part in an event organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. UNHCR/Bernard Rono

Rose also thanked the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and UNHCR and other organizations for giving her and other refugee athletes an opportunity to be involved in sports. Rose’s remarkable and inspirational speech earned her a standing ovation.

The week culminated in the Refugee Olympic Team members, made of up five South Sudanese refugee athletes resident in Kenya and five from other countries, converging in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the Olympism in Action Forum, a new initiative by the IOC that focuses on building a better world through sport. The forum addressed various topics related how to use sport as a tool to bring positive change and development.


The IOC President Thomas Bach pointed out, “The Olympic Games is the only event in the World that brings people together- people from 206 countries – in friendship, under one roof, to share to know each other”

UNHCR Kenya Representative Raouf Mazou who attended the Forum remarked, “Back in the refugee camps athletics has really helped each and every refugee to recognize themselves in those who competed in Rio.” He added, “The Refugee Olympic Team had an immense impact on refugees”.

The refugee athletes who gathered in Argentina expressed their thanks to the IOC President for support refugee access to sport. The Forum took place just before the start of the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, for athletes aged between 15 – 18 years from over 200 countries.

Additional reporting by Bernard Rono, UNHCR Kenya