Sports

Unified with Refugees

Bringing Inclusive Development to People on the Move
Malachie and four other athletes running a racing on a straight track while spectators watch.

Special Olympics Unified with Refugees brings the transformative power of sport and other programming to the most marginalized and amplifies the movement’s calls for social inclusion. Special Olympics partner the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 79 million people worldwide have been forced by violence and other conditions to leave their homes. Refugees and other people on the move often live on the fringes of the societies to which they flee, due to lack of acceptance and poor access to resources.

"I will forever be grateful to the athletes of Special Olympics Italia. They welcomed me. They understood me. They offered their hands of friendship to me when I needed it most—and it continues to serve as a defining moment in my life."
Gerald Mballe, Special Olympics Italy Unified Partner

People with intellectual disabilities (ID) know the social isolation and exclusion that people on the move face. That is why the Special Olympics movement exists: to use sport to combat isolation, demonstrate the diverse face of humanity, and unite communities.

With over a half-century of rich experience promoting social inclusion for people with ID, Special Olympics is pleased to welcome refugees and displaced people to the movement. By using Unified Sports in refugee camps, reception centers, and host communities, Special Olympics helps refugees demonstrate the ways in which they can contribute positively in their new homes, providing pathways to community and acceptance. It also drives a truly Unified Generation through sport by building bridges between the displaced and ID communities, and creates the opportunity to reach refugees and other displaced persons with ID and their families—the most marginalized among the marginalized.

Special Olympics embarked on the Unified with Refugees journey in 2016, after Europe alone received more than a million refugees and migrants the preceding year. As part of an urgent focus to address the plight of individuals with intellectual disabilities in refugee settings, Special Olympics conducted a briefing at the UNHCR HQ office in Geneva, Switzerland and additionally with the European Union in Brussels, Belgium in early 2017. These engagements prompted initial activations in the Netherlands and Cyprus, as well as a series of editorials in key publications like Euractiv, AIPS, Sport and Development and more! They highlight the growing impact and scale of the Special Olympics Unified with Refugees platform. Since that time, Special Olympics and its valued partners have brought the power of sports to refugees with and without intellectual disabilities in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. As the reach of the program continues to expand, even more refugees of all abilities will benefit from inclusive development.

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