As Europe and the United States continue to crack down on refugees, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed on Thursday that for the first time, a team of refugees will compete in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil.
The iconic Olympic torch will also pass through a refugee camp in Athens on its way to Rio de Janeiro.
“One of the refugees will be invited to carry the torch,” Bach told Reuters from Eleonas camp for refugees and migrants in Athens. The camp hosts mostly Afghans and Iranians. “We want to draw the attention of the world to the problems of the refugees.”
Bach said the IOC has created a $2 million fund “to bring hope through sport to refugees.”
“At the same time, we are assisting high-level refugee athletes to continue their sports careers,” he said. “We help them to make their dream of sporting excellence come true even when they have to flee from violence and hunger.”
Between five and 10 refugees from multiple countries will compete under the Olympic flag. The move is not entirely unprecedented, as athletes from the then-fragmenting Yugoslavia participated under the Olympic flag in 1992. East Timor in 2000 and South Sudan in 2012 also participated in this manner because their respective Olympic committees had not yet been formed, the New York Times reported.
More than 20 million people are currently refugees and around 500,000 of those are estimated to have entered Europe last year.
The move to highlight the plight of refugees is in direct contrast to recent news emerging from Europe, where Germany started tightening border restrictions and Sweden and Finland said they would begin deporting refugees. And in a move widely condemned by the international community, Denmark passed laws recently that approve confiscating refugee’s valuables.