Refugee children at the Big Sports House Stadium in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan | Photo: EPA/Amel Pain
Refugee children at the Big Sports House Stadium in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan | Photo: EPA/Amel Pain

Sports can help refugees and displaced people cope with the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) and UN refugee agency UNHCR have said in a joint statement. They announced the launch of several new sports initiatives, aimed at helping young people.

Thomas Bach, the chair of the ORF and the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said they are worried about the growing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of refugees and others uprooted by war, violence and persecution in the statement published on Tuesday.

Refugees among most vulnerable to pandemic

UNHCR said that refugees are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic, because they often reside in overcrowded camps, settlements and urban areas in cramped conditions with inadequate access to fresh water and hygiene supplies.

According to the UN agency, refugees and displaced people are also more vulnerable to mental health issues. One in five people affected by conflict is struggling with mental health problems, UNHCR said. The rate among the general population is significantly lower.

During a remote meeting this Tuesday, the ORF board agreed to a number of initiatives to boost to help displaced young people and help improve their mental health through sports, the statement said. Among those is a project they are launching in Uganda, using sport to improve the mental health of more than 10,000 refugees and locals aged 15 to 24.

Sports can help deal with trauma

"Around the world, we are seeing troubling evidence of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of young refugees," UNHCR head Grandi said. "The Olympic Refuge Foundation has rightly identified the important contribution that sport can make to psychosocial wellbeing and is accelerating its work to address this growing challenge."

"Safe sport provides mental and physical wellbeing for all and, in particular, for people that have experienced and continue to experience trauma, loss and prolonged uncertainty," ORF chair Bach said.


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