Ibrahim Al Hussein – Photos via UNHCR
At that moment in time in 2012, Ibrahim al-Hussein, son of the Deir Ezzor province in Syria, did not know that one of the reasons for opening a new door of hope for more than 70 million people, moved by wars and unrest from their living areas and forcing them to seek refuge in a new country.
Al-Hussein, born in 1988, carried the torch of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics through a refugee camp in the Greek capital, Athens, and also carried the flag of the independent refugee team in the Rio Paralympic Games in the same year, during the debut of the refugee teams, whether in the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
“I started my career at the age of 5 years. My father is a swimming trainer, and my brothers are all swimmers. We are an athletic family. At 10 years old I joined judo training. The problem is that my father was very tough in swimming training, and I loved fighting games, to the point that I was running away from home.” To training judo, it came to his love for swimming because he refused to travel to Jordan or Lebanon at the age of 13 to participate in judo tournaments after I achieved good results in Syria.
“My father was an Asian swimming champion in the 1970s. I naturally followed all of her competitions.”
Hussein’s life in Syria, and specifically in Deir Ezzor governorate, was centered around sport until the political unrest that turned into a civil war began.
“My family was able to leave Deir Ezzor before the start of the army’s siege of the city. I could not leave because if I had been arrested I would have transferred to a reserve soldier who had previously served in the army. 100% would have transferred me to the infantry sector as I was during my recruitment, and I would have to direct my rifle at the issuance of my brothers This is something I would not accept, so I did not flee the city. “
With an amputated foot and a badly damaged one, Hussein had only two options. Death in the constant boom of shells, or flight.
“A friend helped me pass the Euphrates River to the Deir Ezzor countryside, and took me to Turkey, and he returned from there, and from Turkey I arrived in Greece.”
Al-Hussein regained his passion for sports, he had strong motives behind him, and indeed he had great results also on the ground.
“I had two messages. The tragedy we went through in Syria broke our spirits. I tried to prove to my countrymen that disability is not the end of the day, and overcoming it requires strength and persistence. In Greece, a doctor performed the prosthesis operation for free, which is worth 12,000 euros. I reached the stage of sleeping on the street and eating leaves before I got asylum. “
“My second message is that we are true refugees and injured, but we can compete in international forums.”
Al-Hussein owes sport to his integration into Greek society, as he learned the language from his colleagues at the AEK Athena club, where he plays basketball, as well as his daily swimming training. “Everyone here loves me, and everyone helped me to learn the language. Now I read and write in Greek even though I did not attend a language school.”
Al-Hussein’s appearance in the media gave him the opportunity to be the first refugee in the Paralympic team, after his distinguished results in Greece. “The future was unknown before the formation of the Paralympic Refugee Team, but before Ryo, when I carried the torch, that opened the way for us as refugees.”
Al-Hussain awaits the Tokyo Olympics, as he promises that he will not be an easy rival to any of his opponents.
“They have seen the worst in this world .. Now they are coming to be the best.”
Al-Hussein, and dozens of refugees, whether disabled or not, saw the scourge of wars and unrest all over the world, but through sports, they were able to overcome these matters.
Al-Hussein’s trip was not the only one. Every refugee has a “journey” until he arrived to be among the competitors in international sporting events.
Now, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 60 refugee athletes with hope of competing in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The UNHCR works extensively with the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees to support athletes who are challenging their conditions, in terms of asylum, as well as all the living complications caused by the Corona virus.
Dominic Hyde, UNHCR’s external relations officer, said “We are extremely happy at UNHCR to support refugee athletes in their training before the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. Against all circumstances, these exceptional athletes have kept their dreams alive to represent millions of refugees around the world. With our partners in the Olympic and Paralympic Committees, we are committed to ensuring that refugees have the ability to play. Sport and exercise at all levels. “
All photos and videos are provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees