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Unified with Refugees

Emergency Support: Refugee Children with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families Fleeing Ukraine
Young athlete receiving an healthy athlete exam.

The refugee crisis in Europe has engulfed millions of Ukrainian families, including children with intellectual disabilities (ID). Already one of the most marginalized populations on earth, they are now confronted with the most challenging of circumstances—not only fleeing violence, but integrating into new host communities. Their needs are urgent, acute, and growing.

In partnership with Lions Club International Foundation, The Special Olympics Unified with Refugees platform is prepared to address these needs and create the necessary support and community integration in the immediate term. Special Olympics has an important responsibility to support families wherever they are, especially in the most desperate of times.

Group of athletes representing Ukraine.

As a global movement dedicated to empowering individuals with ID and their families in over 190 nations, Special Olympics is actively supporting Ukrainian refugees through the integration of children and their families through its Unified with Refugees programming. Special Olympics is working closely with national Special Olympics organizations in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova to provide emergency relief and assistance to SO-affiliated special education schools and centers. This relief and assistance will come in the form of direct grants to support the provision of:

  • Immediate relief in the form of hygiene supplies, winter clothes, and food.
  • Early childhood development activities through the Special Olympics Young Athletes © program.
  • Sports equipment to empower national Special Olympics organizations to engage children and youths.
  • Support to mobilize supporters for increased sport activities.
  • Distribution of health supplies and counseling through family support seminars.
  • Integration of refugee children into existing sports clubs, providing safeguarding and social protection.

Special Olympics Europe Eurasia is eager to provide key and urgent support to where it is needed most. Through this focused response, Special Olympics can continue to serve as a beacon of hope, belonging and protection to perhaps the most vulnerable, at-risk population subsets in the world, especially in conflict settings. The Special Olympics Unified with Refugees platform is prepared to engage in this effort and create the necessary support and community integration in the immediate term to ensure that it can meet the urgent needs of Ukrainian refugee children and their families.

Malache running in race with other athletes.

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.

"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

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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