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Refugee Olympian Yiech Pur Biel named UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

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Refugee Olympian Yiech Pur Biel named UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

4 August 2020
Kenya. Kakuma TEDx Homecoming for South Sudanese Olympic runner
Yiech Pur Biel stands outside his home in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today announced the appointment of South Sudanese track and field athlete Yiech Pur Biel as their newest Goodwill Ambassador.

A refugee, Pur was forced to flee the conflict in South Sudan in 2005, journeying alone to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya when he was only ten years old. Growing up in Kakuma, Pur devoted himself to athletic training despite the intense heat and basic facilities in the camp. He trained at the Tegla Loroupe camp in Nairobi, and began running competitively in 2015, before being part of the first Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

“It is a huge honour for me to be able to use my status as an athlete to help refugees and displaced people, to share my own story and those of other refugees like me and make sure that refugees all over the world have a voice. I want to be an ambassador for refugees everywhere and I am so happy to be able to continue my commitment to working with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, helping refugees not only to survive but also to thrive. This work is incredible and vitally important to so many people all over the world.” said Pur, who has supported UNHCR since 2016.

In his new role as a Goodwill Ambassador Pur will continue to advocate for the rights of the displaced whilst he continues his training to be on the Refugee Olympic team in Tokyo 2021. His appointment comes at a time when UNHCR’s Global Trends report states that over 79.5 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced. South Sudan’s long history of displacement, both before and after its independence in 2011 is listed by the report as a major crisis which contributed significantly to global displacement.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “We are extremely proud to welcome Yiech Pur Biel as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Pur’s active and long-standing commitment to speaking up for refugees and displaced people, drawing directly on his own experience, is deeply admirable. This new role will help formalise and amplify his advocacy even further. At a time when forced displacement has reached unprecedented levels, with one percent of humanity now uprooted by conflict, persecution and violence, his contribution is more critical than ever.”

President Bach of the International Olympic Committee said, "Pur's extraordinary journey, from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to Rio 2016 where he competed for the first IOC Refugee Olympic Team, inspires us all. Today, Pur is also a strong voice within the Olympic Refuge Foundation, providing access to safe sport for forcibly displaced young people across the world. I am sure that in his new role as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, he will continue to act as a role model and demonstrate that sport can not only bring hope but change lives, empower young people and drive positive change in our society."

Since competing in Rio, Pur has travelled to 26 countries as an athlete and an advocate for refugees. He spoke at the first TEDx event held in a refugee camp, TEDxKakumaCamp and has attended and spoken for UNHCR campaigns in New York and Paris. Pur has also been actively involved in efforts to bring peace to his country, South Sudan. He represented other refugees at peace talks in Addis Ababa and Khartoum in 2018 and at committee meetings at the African Union in 2019.

Following Rio 2016, Pur worked further with the International Olympic Committee and joined the Board of the Olympic Refuge Foundation. His most recent competitive sporting competitions include the 2018 African Athletics Championships in Nigeria, and the 2019 Harmony Geneva Marathon. Pur is now training and studying in the USA.

To find out more about Yiech Pur Biel’s work with UNHCR, visit Yiech Pur Biel’s page


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