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Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini appeals for refugee access to sports


Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini appeals for refugee access to sports

27 June 2024
Kenya. Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency Yusra Mardini met with refugee Olympic athlete for Paris 2024 Perina Lokure Nakang at the Eldoret Sports Club in Eldoret, Kenya

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini (left) meets refugee Olympic athlete for Paris 2024 Perina Lokure Nakang at the Eldoret Sports Club, Kenya.

LONDON - With one month to go until the opening of the Olympic Games Paris 2024, former refugee Olympian Yusra Mardini is appealing today to governments, civil society and the sporting world, to increase access to sport for refugee adults and children.   

Following a recent trip to Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, Mardini – a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN refugee Agency – said: “I have seen for myself the hugely positive impact sport can have on the lives of people who had to flee war, conflict or persecution, as they look for a sense of normality amid the huge disruption they have endured.”

Kakuma Refugee Camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement are home to more than 288,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, and residents have long embraced sport as a way to heal, develop and grow in a safe and supportive environment and to find solace amid the difficulty and uncertainty of exile. Mardini – who competed in the Olympic Games in Rio and Tokyo, and on whom the main character of the Netflix film “The Swimmers” is based – met and heard from new arrivals from Sudan who fled the year-long devastating war in their country and witnessed the many challenges refugees face every day.

She also visited UNHCR sport initiatives, including the Kalobeyei Sports Complex and schools with basketball, football and volleyball teams.

“I am honoured to attend this year’s Olympics as a presenter for Eurosport, where I hope to help highlight the incredible stories of refugee athletes competing on the Refugee Olympic Team,” Mardini added.

“But although these athletes are at the top of their game, it's vital that all refugees have access to sports to help build fulfilling lives.”

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Myaruarch, a 19-year-old refugee who plays for the local football team in Kakuma, the KK Stars. "Every time I play, I forget about being a refugee and I am in a world of imagination where I feel like a winner," Myaruarch told her.

In addition, the camp has proudly seen five refugee athletes compete in both Rio and Tokyo. Mardini met Perina Lokure Nakang, who this year will be one of the youngest athletes on the 36-strong refugee team in Paris, racing in the 800m. Nakang, 21, fled South Sudan at the age of seven and has lived in Kakuma for 14 years.

“I am incredibly excited to compete in this year’s Olympics. Fleeing South Sudan, I had no idea what my future held. I hope my participation shows the world the true value refugees bring – we are just as capable as anyone else. Seeing Yusra’s achievements inspires me, reminding us all that there is hope for refugees everywhere,” said Nakang.

UNHCR and its partners continue to support sport initiatives around the world, such as organized activities in camps, settlements and urban areas, particularly for children and youth. These initiatives are intended to empower refugee communities, help strengthen life skills, foster integration and have been used to great effect as part of child protection, education and psychosocial well-being interventions.

About Yusra

Yusra Mardini fled from Syria in 2015 and went on to compete as a swimmer in the Refugee Olympic Team in the butterfly 100 metres. She represented the team at both the Rio and the Tokyo Olympics. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

About UNHCR 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, water and other basic necessities; help safeguard fundamental human rights; and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future.

Find out more about UNHCR’s sport programmes, here.  

See the B-Roll for media here.

See images here.

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