Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich midfielder, has a unique understanding of the journeys members of the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) have been on. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents, he connects with their stories. In a message to the Refugee Paralympic Team, sent as part of his role as a UNHCR ambassador, he wrote: “Not everyone understands you but I do.”
The Canadian international is one of the world’s most in-demand young players right now. His letter to the RPT gave a message of hope and support: “You are the most courageous sports team in the world right now. The world is behind you’.
There are six athletes in the RPT who compete across Para athletics, Para swimming, Para canoe, and Para taekwondo. One of the flagbearers, club thrower Alia Issa is both the youngest team member and the first woman.
“I never believed that I would be here with the Refugee Paralympic Team. I never believed that I would hold the flag… I am a bit nervous!” said the 20 year old Syrian refugee living in Athens.
“I want to say to the women that have a disability [to] not stay at home. And to try every day with sports to be outside in the world. And I hope that I am the first example to follow.”
Alia Issa is the youngest member of the Refugee Paralympic Team
The aim is for the team to represent the 82 million people around the world who have been forced to flee war, persecution, and human rights abuses, 12 million of whom live with a disability.
“When you are a refugee, you're in a situation of hardship and you need to overcome that. But also added to that, having a disability, you need to start all over again and you need to adapt to a new country. You need to adapt to new circumstances,” RPT Chef de Mission Ileana Rodriguez said when asked why the team were the world’s ‘most courageous’.
Born in Cuba, Rodriguez and her family left for the United States when she was a teenager in the hope of finding better treatment for a malformation of the spine which left her paralysed.
After becoming a US citizen, Rodriguez competed in swimming for Team USA at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, reaching the final in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB5.
“And on top of that, you decide to compete at the world's largest stage in sports. So, I think there is no better definition for someone to be courageous,” Rodriguez concluded.