Yiech Pur Biel was announced as Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR in August 2020.
Pur is a South Sudanese track and field refugee athlete currently living and studying in the United States of America. He has been a supporter of UNHCR since 2016. Pur was forced to flee war in South Sudan in 2005 at the age of 10, leaving his parents and arriving alone in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. He developed a talent for football, overcoming the challenges of training in the sweltering heat with no facilities, and was recognised for having athletic ability during trials to identify refugee athletes.
Pur and the Olympic Games
In 2016 Pur made history by competing for the first Refugee Olympic Team in the 800m event at the Rio Summer Olympics in Brazil. Pur explained that competing could help him to be an ambassador for refugees everywhere: “I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education but also in running, you can change the world.”
Since Rio, Pur has competed in various sporting competitions in Kenya and across the world. Pur continues to represent refugees on the global athletics stage, most recently participating in the 2018 African Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria. He also competed at the 2019 Harmony Geneva Marathon, at which he came 4th in the 10km elite race.
In 2018, Pur addressed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates before the announcement that a refugee Olympic team will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Games, now rescheduled to 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, following the ground-breaking debut of refugee athletes at Rio 2016.
Pur has also been appointed as a Board Member of the Olympic Refugee Foundation, whose goal is to create safe and accessible sports facilities in areas where there are refugees and displaced communities.
Other UNHCR Work
Pur has become a committed supporter of UNHCR’s work, and continues to receive awards and recognition for his work representing refugees worldwide. In September 2016 he helped to amplify the voices of refugees by urging 193 nations at the UN General Assembly to support UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, via an historic hand-in ceremony in New York. He has also travelled to Paris with UNHCR, visiting the restaurant of Mohammed el-Khaldy - a Syrian chef who has been given asylum in France – and learnt about a program set up to send presents to refugee children. These actions build on Pur's wider work as a powerful advocate for the refugee cause. In 2018 Pur was a key speaker at the first ever TedX event to be hosted in a refugee camp – TEDxKakumaCamp.
Most recently, Pur, together with Yusra Mardini – another refugee Olympian - and on behalf of the Refugee Olympic Team, received the International Crisis Group (ICG)’s Stephen J. Solarz Award at their In Pursuit of Peace Award Dinner in New York. Pur’s story has been the subject of countless news articles about him and his work for UNHCR throughout 2019 and 2020, and Pur consistently supports UNHCR’s work on his social media channels.
Finally, Pur has been actively involved in efforts to bring peace to his country, and represented other refugees at the South Sudan Peace Talks in Addis Ababa and Khartoum in 2018. To mark 2019 as the Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa, the African Union (AU) invited Pur to take part in the Continental Consultative Committee meeting (CCM) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 19-20.