The Refugee Nation
The Refugee Nation

The Refugee Olympic Team is making history. Not for winning gold medals or beating a personal best, but simply because they made it to Rio. They are sending a message of hope and shining a light on the global refugee crisis. By being a part of the Rio 2016 Olympics, they are giving a voice to the millions of voiceless refugees.

Last Friday, they made history during the opening ceremony, walking behind the Olympic banner, receiving a standing ovation, as the first Refugee Olympic Team to ever compete. Given that they had no flag to call their own, however, a nonprofit organization decided to change that.

The Refugee Nation
The Refugee Nation

The Refugee Nation decided to pay tribute to the Refugee Olympic Team, and all refugees, by creating an official flag and anthem to represent hope, resilience and solidarity. The flag was made by Yara Said, an artist and Syrian refugee who is living in Amsterdam, according to their website. The flag is black and orange and as Said explained, “A black and orange (colors of the life vests) is a symbol of solidarity for all those who crossed the sea in search of a new country. I myself wore one, which is why I so identify with these colors—and these people.”

The official anthem was composed by Moutaz Arian, also a Syrian refugee, who had been studying music at the University of Damascus before he was forced to flee his own country. In the official video of the anthem, Arian says, “Music is my way to deliver the message to humanity to love each other. This language does not need translation.”

The 10 refugee athletes originally come from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and are competing in swimming, judo and athletics. Yolande Bukasa Mabika, a judoka originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says the sport gave her a “strong heart.” Yiech Pur Biel, a runner in the 800-meter race from South Sudan, began running as a way to have greater control over his own destiny. Yusra Mardini, a swimmer from Syria and the youngest on the team, helped push a dinghy, which she and almost 20 other refugees were using to flee, for three hours as it started to sink, saving everyone.

The Refugee Olympic Team is representing the more than 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced, among them being over 21 million refugees. Half of those 21 million people are under the age of 18. According to The UN Refugee Agency, “nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day.”

It was announced in March that there would be a new Refugee Olympic Team, created by the International Olympic Committee. The UNHCR also has a partnership with the IOC, which was created over 20 years ago. According to IOC President Thomas Bach, “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”

The Refugee Nation has now created a petition to have the IOC allow the refugee athletes to carry their flag in the Olympics. In addition to the petition, The Refugee Nation is encouraging people to support the refugee athletes by applying a social media filter, making a flag of your own, listening to the anthem and wearing orange. Amnesty International, The Refugee Nation’s supporter, is also calling for people to take the pledge to speak out for refugees’ rights.

Others who have lent their support to #TeamRefugees include President Obama, activist Malala Yousafzai, actress Olivia Wilde and even Pope Francis, who sent a letter to the Refugee Olympic Team, offering his encouragement.

How are you supporting the Refugee Olympic Team?