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IPC announces six athletes to compete for the Refugee Paralympic Team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

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IPC announces six athletes to compete for the Refugee Paralympic Team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

Joint IPC/UNHCR Press Release
30 June 2021
USA. Refugee athlete Abbas Karimi trains with hopes of securing a place on the Tokyo 2020 Refugee Paralympic Team
Abbas Karimi, an Afghan refugee swimmer who was born without arms, trains in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA.

International stars Chris Martin, Alphonso Davies, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Barbara Hendricks, Khaled Hosseini and Asmir Begovic champion the refugee cause and welcome the “world’s most courageous sports team” in a heart-warming reveal video:

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has today confirmed the six athletes who will represent the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The athletes, one woman and five men, will compete in Para athletics, Para swimming, Para canoe and Para taekwondo.

The team represents the more than 82 million people around the world who have been forced to flee war, persecution, and human rights abuses, 12 million of whom live with a disability. The Chef de Mission for the team is Ileana Rodriguez, a refugee from Cuba who competed in the London 2012 Paralympic Games in swimming for the USA.

Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “I would urge people everywhere to support the world’s most courageous sports team, the Refugee Paralympic Team. These athletes exemplify how change starts with sport: they have suffered life-changing injuries, fled for their safety and undertaken dangerous journeys, but despite the many barriers put in their way, they have become elite athletes ready to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“Sport is a powerful tool to include refugees with disabilities in society and the announcement of the Refugee Paralympic Team is a poignant moment for the IPC – we are delivering on a commitment we made at the UNHCR Global Refugee Forum in 2019 to promote equal participation in sporting events for refugees.”

The IPC is working with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide opportunities for these remarkable Para athletes to tell their stories at the Games and send a strong message of hope and inspiration to others around the world who have been forced to flee. While all refugees face significant challenges, those with disabilities are frequently at heightened risk and face additional barriers to accessing assistance, services, and opportunities.

UNHCR, the IPC and the RPT athletes are calling for a world in which all displaced people – with or without disabilities – can equally access sport and a commitment to an inclusive and equal world for all.  RPT athlete Abbas Karimi, who was a member of UNHCR’s Global Youth Advisory Council and who has recently been named a UNHCR High Profile Supporter epitomizes this commitment as a passionate advocate for disabled refugees’ access to and inclusion in sport – at all levels.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi welcomed the announcement.

“I am thrilled to congratulate each of the six athletes named today as members of the IPC Refugee Paralympic Team. I am also immensely proud of our collaboration with the International Paralympic Committee in promoting inclusion of refugees with disabilities in sport. These athletes, as individuals and as a Team, are sending a message of hope and inspiration to refugees around the world. They are truly trailblazers in promoting refugee and disability inclusion, in elite sport and in life, and we hope their example will move us one step closer towards an inclusive and equal world for all,” Grandi said.

The RPT was announced via a video by stars from the worlds of music, sport, literature, stage and screen who champion the refugee cause. They included Goodwill Ambassadors and high profile supporters from UNHCR, the UN Refuge Agency. The athletes on the Refugee Paralympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are:

  • Ibrahim Al Hussein, Syrian refugee living in Athens, Greece, Para swimming – announced by Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin.
  • Alia Issa, Syrian refugee living in Athens, Greece, Para athletics (club throw) – announced by British actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
  • Parfait Hakizimana*, Burundian refugee living in the Mahama Refugee Camp, Rwanda, Para taekwondo – announced by opera singer and French Legion d’honneur recipient and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks.
  • Abbas Karimi, Afghan refugee living in Fort Lauderdale, USA, Para swimming – announced by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, the best-selling author of The Kite Runner and himself an Afghan refugee.
  • Anas Al Khalifa, Syrian refugee living in Halle, Germany, Para canoe – announced by footballer and UNHCR high profile supporter, Asmir Begović, who was forced to flee his home in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a young age, first arriving in Germany.
  • Shahrad Nasajpour, Iranian refugee living in Phoenix, USA, Para athletics (discus) – announced by Bayern Munich and Canada footballer Alphonso Davies, himself a refugee originally from Liberia and recently announced as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

The RPT Tokyo 2020 will compete under the IPC flag, and will be the first Team to enter the Japan National Stadium during the opening ceremony. 

The IPC has been able to support the RPT to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games thanks the generous backing of commercial partners:

  • Airbnb – Worldwide Paralympic Partner. Airbnb, as part of its mission of belonging, has been supporting refugee initiatives since 2015, first through its Open Homes programme, and now and Paralympian Experiences  – and is the lead partner of the Refugee Paralympic Team.
  • ASICS – Official Supplier of the IPC. ASICS is the official sport apparel kit provider of the RPT at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
  • Panasonic – Worldwide Paralympic Partner. Panasonic published a photo book entitled Ayase Haruka meets Beautiful Athletes showcasing their “Beautiful Japan towards 2020campaign. Part of the proceeds from the sales of this book were donated to supporting the RPT.

Catherine Powell, Global Head of Hosting at Airbnb, said: “I'd like to congratulate the six members of the Refugee Paralympic Team competing in Tokyo 2020 officially announced today. When I read the stories of Abbas, Shahrad, Anas, Alia, Ibrahim and Parfait, their journeys seem so different, yet there is a common thread – how often one person helped change their lives by welcoming these terrific athletes into their new communities and making them feel they belong, I encourage you to go and read more about these athletes and join Airbnb in cheering them on!”

Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto said: “The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee welcomes the participation of the Refugee Paralympic Team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, following its debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I hope that the Refugee Team will show the world the endeavour, the resilience and the hope of human beings through sporting competition, and that they will perform at their best with a wish for peace. We will continue to cooperate with the IPC and relevant local municipalities and will make every effort to ensure everything proceeds smoothly and safely for the Refugee Team.”

The RPT also honours the legacy of Sir Ludwig Guttmann. He was a refugee who found a new home to welcome him and repaid that kindness by helping create one of the world’s great movements, the Paralympic Movement. The RPT builds on previous refugee initiatives created by the IPC. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games a two-person team of refugee and asylum-seeking athletes formed the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team.

Ileana Rodriguez, Chef de Mission for the Refugee Paralympic Team, added: “I am so pleased for all the athletes who have made it to the Refugee Paralympic Team. This past year has been especially challenging for refugee athletes, but they are no stranger to toughness in their lives. Showing the very best of human spirit, they will be a team like no other at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. They will proudly represent the 12 million refugees around the world who have a disability and show that everyone has potential.”

*Parfait’s participation in the Games is subject to him being classified by 1 August 2021.


Notes to Editors

Media contacts

  • The Press Attaché for the Refugee Paralympic Team is Teddy Katz. For all media enquiries of the Refugee Paralympic Team please email [email protected]
  • For UNHCR spokesperson and comment please contact Sarah Epstein [email protected] or Alicia Hosking in NY on [email protected]

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