ATHENS – A Syrian refugee who lost a part of right leg in bombing before escaping to Greece three years ago will carry the Olympic flame in Athens as part of the torch relay for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with millions of refugees worldwide.
“It is an honor,” Ibrahim Al-Hussein says of bearing the Olympic flame, UNHCR reported.
“Imagine achieving one of your biggest dreams. Imagine that your dream of more than 20 years is becoming a reality.”
Ibrahim arrived on the Greek island of Samos in 2014, after crossing the Aegean Sea in a rubber dinghy.
The 27-year-old athlete sees the chance as fulfilling a 20-year-old dream of competing in the Olympics after his athletic career was interrupted by the war and his injury.
Taking Athens as his new home, he tries to rebuild his life and identity as an Olympic swimmer by committing himself to a rigorous sports training schedule.
“It’s not just a game for me,” Ibrahim says of his training schedule. “It’s my life.”
“I used to climb to the top, dive into the water and swim in the river,” Ibrahim said, recalling his life at the banks of the Euphrates River in the famed Deir ez-Zor.
Ibrahim was selected to carry the Olympic torch following an announcement by Jacques Rogge, honorary president of the International Olympic Committee, that a refugee would carry it this year on behalf of refugees worldwide.
“Sport can heal many wounds,” said Rogge, who is also the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport.
“Sport can bring them hope, can help to forge their ideas and to integrate in society. Ultimately it brings them hope and dreams.”
“Sport is not the solution,” he added. “But it can make a great contribution.”
In many ways, sports saved Ibrahim’s life, giving him purpose when he found himself alone as a refugee in Greece.
“I am carrying the flame for myself, but also for Syrians, for refugees everywhere, for Greece, for sports, for my swimming and basketball teams,” Ibrahim says.
“My goal is to never give up. But to go on, to always go forward. And that I can achieve through sports.”