Feyzan Güngör | 21 October 2022
Yasir is a 32-year-old father and an avid football player who was born in Mosul, Iraq. Yasir had his life turned upside down in just one day. After losing both legs in an explosion in Iraq in 2016, he fled to Türkiye with his family in search of security and peace. In his new life, sports present an opportunity to feel included and empowered.
Yasir, along with many others in need of international protection, received support for registration in Türkiye and is now able to access essential services. His family is building a new life in hope and in dignity, as they contribute to the country that is offering them protection.
Yasir lives in Samsun, Türkiye with his wife, two children, his mother and father, and his two siblings. Soon after his arrival, he was introduced by members of the host community to the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), an NGO partner of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). “Initially, I did not know how to get officially registered here as well as the procedures to follow,” he recalls. “They assisted me through the steps of registration which allowed me to obtain my ID card easily.” Yasir’s close relationship with ASAM continues today as he receives medical counselling and other support.
Describing his life in Iraq, Yasir expresses the passion he had for sports growing up and how playing football remained a hobby into adulthood. This hobby turned into a beacon of hope once he lost both legs. “Before I became disabled, I was a good football player. When I first lost my legs, I felt empty in my life,” he shared. “But now that I am a multi-sport athlete, I no longer consider myself disabled. Sports have changed my life and become a large part of it.”
“Sports have changed my life and become a large part of it”
Not letting physical challenges stand in his way, Yasir has branched out into different sports while living in Türkiye, including basketball, tennis, badminton, and jiu-jitsu. After joining a national youth sports club, he started participating in basketball training sessions before switching to badminton. In short period of time, he excelled in this new sport as well.
In 2018, Yasir competed in the Para-Badminton Championship in Mersin and ranked third. He was one of two refugees in the championship. Yasir cherishes the help he received to get to this point. “Despite the limited possibilities, I was overjoyed when I ranked in the top three. It was my first time joining in a championship since becoming disabled,” he remembers proudly. “I am grateful for the support of my former basketball team coach.” Yasir also happily adds that his family supports and encourages him in all his sport endeavours.
“Outcompeting a non-disabled person makes you forget about your disability and helps overcome the physical obstacles in life.”
Jiu-jitsu is another sport in which Yasir engages in. “Jiu-jitsu is my favourite sport because it gives me the opportunity to outcompete non-disabled people, which makes you forget about your disability and helps overcome the physical obstacles in life,” he explains. “I feel the power of my entire body, as well as the power of my mind.”
Yasir wants to become a jiu-jitsu champion and plans to compete in this year’s world championship in İstanbul. “Even if I do not rank, I’ll be glad to compete in a championship normally reserved for non-disabled athletes as, probably, the only disabled athlete,” he stresses. Yasir adds that training is just as fun as competing, as he, his co-athletes, and trainers all feel like family. “My jiu-jitsu coach always says to me: ‘The most important thing to me is seeing you succeed,’” he remarks.
“Sports, especially for disabled people, are half the cure.”
In August 2016, the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team competed at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2021, for the second time in history, 35 refugee Olympians and Paralympians competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Originally hailing from more than 10 countries and competing in various Olympic and paralympic sports, the athletes showed the resilience and the perseverance of refugees. Yasir advises other refugees, including those with disabilities, to get involved in sports. “Sports, especially for disabled people, are half the cure. A disabled person might believe that there is a part of her/his body that cannot be used. They can, however, make use of it in sports,” he concludes. “I also encourage non-disabled people to participate in sports where they can.”
For those who are uprooted by conflict and persecution, sports present an opportunity to feel included, protected, and empowered. Thank you, France, Norway, and the Republic of Korea for continuing to protect and assist refugees in Türkiye and elsewhere. As Yasir’s story demonstrates, such support is life-changing.