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Special Olympics and UN Refugee Agency Stand Unified With Refugees of All Abilities

Special Olympics and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today signed a global Memorandum of Understanding to formalize a growing partnership benefiting refugees of all abilities. The signing was celebrated by way of a virtual convening, solidifying a shared commitment to empower refugees through inclusive sports. The partnership agreement represents a significant milestone for Special Olympics and the movement’s growing Unified with Refugees platform.

Refugees, including those with intellectual disabilities, are one of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations in the world. In the same way that those with intellectual disabilities experience social exclusion and stigma, refugees are routinely met with discrimination, exploitation and social isolation.

 Malaki stands next to Tim Shriver and another Special Olympics representative as the delegation walks on stage at the World Summer Games.
Photo from 2019. Special Olympics Tanzania athlete Malachi—who was discovered in chains by Nils Kastberg, member of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics International, in Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Tanzania in 2017—with Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver leading the Special Olympics Tanzania delegation in the Parade of Athletes at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

The new partnership between Special Olympics and UNHCR aims to offer increased services and opportunities for refugees of all abilities, while also using the Special Olympics development-through-sport programming to ensure stronger social protection, access to health and education services, and safeguarding. For both organizations, grass-roots inclusive sports represents a powerful platform to provide these opportunities, harnessing the power of sport to empower and level the playing field for all participants.

Mr. Nils Kastberg, a United Nations veteran and a member of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics International, commented, “This partnership represents a strong willingness on the part of both organizations to recommit to those most excluded. Together, Special Olympics and UNHCR can achieve remarkable things for refugees with conditions and syndromes, and their families. We are proud of this milestone for the Special Olympics movement, and even more excited about the social impact we can achieve through this new team effort.”

“UNHCR is delighted to enter into this global partnership with Special Olympics International,” said Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations at UNHCR. “This partnership underscores our commitment to support all people forced to flee ensuring that young people of all abilities can participate equally in sports activities. We are also looking forward to engage with, and learn from, Special Olympics athletes."

Today, Special Olympics and UNHCR formalize a relationship that was forged in refugee camps and reception centers across the world, as part of a global vision of inclusion for all. Special Olympics looks forward to providing a place where refugees find healing, discover their power, and feel at home.

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