A refugee from Iraq, Wisam Sami wanted his message of hope to reach anyone listening during the International Paralympic Committee’s STEADY Facebook live chat on 22 June.
The wheelchair fencing athlete provided a powerful testimony about his escape from Islamic State-ruled Iraq to Greece, where he eventually found wheelchair fencing and new opportunities.
”Please, in life you have many chances, so don’t just stay in your room,” Sami said. “I was like that. I was in my room, as a refugee. I lost my home, I felt like nothing. But sport opened my eyes. Open your eyes, do sport and start a new life.
“In a room, nobody cares about you. But if you play games and meet new people, this will open a door in your life. You will feel good and say ‘I am not just a refugee.’”
At the age of three, his mother took him to hospital for a persistent fever where he was mistakenly administered an injection which was meant for adults. The effects left his right leg permanently damaged. In 2010, he attempted to join a fencing club in his hometown of Mosul but was turned down.
But three years later, the rise of Islamic State within Iraq changed Sami’s life change forever. During the live chat, Sami detailed how he fled Iraq, and in 2016, made his way to the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey, where mafia groups were smuggling refugees to Greece. After a few attempts, he finally reached Greece where he was introduced to the National Paralympic Committee of Greece by a friend. That is how he found wheelchair fencing.
It has been through initiatives like STEADY – Sport as a Tool for Empowerment of (Dis)Abled & Displaced Youth – that has brought Sami to where he is today. He emphasised the role sport can play in integrating refugees into society.
“Now I want to also send a message to clubs, coaches and sport managers. Open the chance for refugee players, organisations that can support refugees, just open the doors for these players. Please join the STEADY project, because this changed my life and can change other refugees too.”
Questions were taken from viewers, asking more about Sami’s journey and goals with sport, as well as the initiative STEADY, which is a tool to support local communities with the inclusion of refugees and displaced people with a disability.
Jose Cabo, Senior Manager at the IPC’s Membership Programmes Division emphasised: “This project is for everyone. Everyone can be part of this project. What we want is to expand this initiative. Local clubs can open their doors for refugees with and without disabilities to practice. We want to use Para sport as a tool for social inclusion, as a tool for exchange between the host community and refugee community.”
Sports clubs and organisations can learn more about STEADY and integrating refugees through sports through resources and manuals provided online.