The Platform

1988 Seoul Paralympic Games. (Australian Paralympic Committee)

The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games is scheduled to start on August 24th. The Paralympics are a clear manifestation of the fact that talent transcends physical challenges. While the Refugee Olympic Team acquired a lot of attention at this year’s Olympics, the Refugee Paralympic Team is also expected to capture a lot of global attention. It will be comprised of six members. The members of the team will hail from the conflict-ridden countries of Burundi, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The team was announced via a video by celebrities from the fields of music, sports, and the like, known to champion refugee causes.

Parfait Hakizimana

Para Taekwondo Olympian Parfait Hakizimana is a Burundian refugee, currently residing in Rwanda. Burundi’s tumultuous political landscape has resulted in a huge migration flow of its citizens to neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Rwanda. Like thousands of other refugees, Parfait lived in a camp for internally displaced persons. The conflict in Burundi killed his mother and left him with an injury that permanently weakened his arm but not his ambitions.

Para Taekwondo Olympian Parfait Hakizimana. (UNHCR)

Alia Issa

Alia is a Syrian refugee. She will compete in the club throw event in track and field. Irrespective of being wheelchair-bound, Alia shall soon be creating history by becoming the first female member of the Refugee Paralympic Team. This will clearly go on to inspire millions of girls worldwide, especially those living in refugee camps and facing gender-specific barriers that limit their opportunities.

Shahrad Nasajpour

Shahrad is an Iranian refugee, currently residing in the United States. He is a para-athlete in the discus throw and this is his second Paralympics, the first being in Rio in 2016, in which he was one of two members of the Refugee Paralympic Team.

Anas Al Khalifa

Anas is a Para Canoe Olympian. He fled to Germany from a war-torn Syria, in search of better opportunities. Anas installed solar panels on roofs to support himself and his family, but in 2018, his life changed after he took a near-fatal fall. Anas is one of the few Syrian refugees who will be competing this year.

Abbas Karimi

Abbas Karimi was only sixteen years of age when he fled from Afghanistan, his country of origin. Karimi lived in several refugee camps before he finally made it to the United States to pursue swimming at a competitive level. At the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships, he bagged a silver medal and created history. Karimi is in for a podium finish, given his several accolades in aquatics.

Due to the ongoing Afghan crisis, thousands of Afghans have either fled or are trying to flee their country out of fear. It is hoped that Karimi’s participation shall inspire the thousands of Afghans who remain forcibly displaced.

Ibrahim Al Hussein

Para-swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein is a Syrian refugee, currently residing in Greece. Ibrahim has a prosthetic leg but he never let that shatter his dreams. He was seen carrying the Olympic torch in Rio in 2016. Being a part of the torch relay is indeed a matter of great prestige given its cultural significance. As per tradition, the Olympic flame is lit in Greece. The flame then travels for months before finally reaching the host country for the Olympics. This was clearly a matter of great pride for Hussein given the fact that Greece is now his country of residence. Hussein’s success as an Olympian has garnered him a lot of popularity in Greece. It is also to be noted that this is Ibrahim’s second Paralympics, following his participation in Rio in 2016.

Swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein. (Paralympic Games)

As per a UNHCR Report, 82.4 million people remain forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, human rights violations, and so on. Like the Refugee Olympic Team, the International Olympic Committee has also created a Refugee Paralympic Team, for utilising sports as a tool to create opportunities that ensure the social inclusion of disabled refugees into mainstream society. Sports transcends cultural identities and provides a platform that ensures the overall mental well-being of athletes.

Prarthana Sen is a former Research Assistant at ORF, an independent global think tank. Her research interests include gender, sustainable development, forced displacement, and development cooperation. She is also a member of the Indian Association for Asian and Pacific Studies.