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Unified with Refugees: Bringing Inclusive Development to World Refugee Day

Special Olympics athletes and refugee youth from throughout Europe and Africa teamed up to make World Refugee Day 2021 a powerful expression of inclusion and development through sport.
Special Olympics World Refugee Day

From Brussels to Nairobi and from Tuzla to Turin and beyond, the Special Olympics Unified with Refugees program continues to expand its reach in affording Special Olympics athletes and refugee youth alike the opportunity to come together and Play Unified.

Special Olympics has always used sport as a tool to combat isolation, marginalization and discrimination, and World Refugee Day 2021 serves as a strong example of the way in which inclusive development through sport is changing the game for so many across the world.

On a pitch in downtown Brussels, Vice President of the European Commission Margaritas Schinas and former European Council President Herman van Rompuy played football alongside the athletes and their refugee peers, shooting penalty kicks after the match! The sporting event culminated with a consultation with the group on the challenges facing both groups, often on the margins of their communities. Speaking at the event, Commission Vice President Schinas noted, "It’s a fantastic initiative to celebrate World Refugee Day. Europe is more than its infrastructure, it is the men and the women, the human values that we emphasize here today."

A group of young men in t-shirts, shorts and bibs in action facing the goal on a football pitch.
Special Olympics Belgium World Refugee Day 2021 7 aside Unified Football Tournament took place on 20 June in Brussels. The event, which was supported by Lions Clubs International Foundation, brought together Special Olympics athletes and refugees residing in Belgium to play side by side.

On a pitch on the outskirts of Turin, Italy and Madrid, Spain, Special Olympics athletes and refugees brought inclusive sports to the forefront, showcasing inclusion to local and national governments alike in encouraging more support, more engagement and greater visibility. Families mobilized in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina on the sidelines of a Unified Sports event with refugees, to share stories of perseverance and determination at a time when it is needed most. The friendly matches included local Special Olympics athletes and players from FC Sloboda, FC Mladost and PUŽ, a team composed of young refugees from a local safe house for the most vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Speaking at the event, Tuzla Lions Clubs Vice President Sabina Mujezinovic noted, “As people, as a society, we need to do everything in our capacity to make it easier for people who are looking for better, more humane conditions for themselves and their families. We must not forget to show solidarity with them and help them overcome the difficulties they are experiencing.”

A team of footballers in a yellow and red kit stand together facing the camera alongside a pull-up banner with the Special Olympics Tanzania and Lions Clubs International Foundation logo.
On 21 June 2021, Special Olympics Tanzania celebrated World Refugee Day by hosting a Unified with Refugees event in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp where Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners football played side by side at the sports competition and gathered for a community event, including traditional dance, after.

Thousands of miles away, in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya and the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania, athletes and refugees together brought football to the community and in doing so, a lasting expression of unity, inclusion, diversity and dignity for all. In Kakuma Refugee Camp, 100 athletes and Unified partners participated in 7-a-side Unified football, with 12 teams competing over the course of two action-packed days. Meanwhile in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania, Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners played side by side at the sports competition which was followed by a community activity, including traditional dancing.

A collage of four images: the top left image is a female football player running with the ball, the top right image is a woman sitting in front of a banner with the Lions Clubs International Foundation logo on it, the bottom left is football player with his hands in the air and a medal around his neck, the bottom right is a group of football players jumping for the football in front of the net.
Images from Special Olympics World Refugee Day activities in Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy and Belgium.

In partnership with Lions Clubs International Foundation and with the support of UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) national offices around the world, the Special Olympics Unified with Refugees platform is continuing to advance the rights and abilities of athletes of all abilities- both on and off the field of play.

World Refugee Day activities came just ahead of the beginning of a year-long celebration of the Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International Foundation two-decade long cooperation! World Refugee Day 2021 embodies the principles of values of our “Mission: Inclusion” partnership, propelling one of the most successful civic partnerships forward further still in support of a world fully inclusive through service and solidarity.

See photos from across Europe and Africa in our World Refugee Day gallery.

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