At the XVI Summer Paralympics, taking place in Tokyo, also participates the Refugee Team composed of six athletes, one woman and five men, originally from Syria (three), Burundi, Iran and Afghanistan. It is right, therefore, to cheer and rejoice for the Italian Paralympic delegation, but never forget those fleeing war, persecution, rights violations and poverty. Tell, therefore, something of the lives of the members of this team are Not free if any other woman is not, even if the chains are very different from my own, back to me the thought of Audre Lorde (1934-1992), poet and leader of feminism, black american, as I read on the”Osservatore Romano” the interesting article in the August 23, signed by Giampaolo Mattei, entitled Rooting for who was born without arms in Kabul.
In it Mattei tells the stories of the six athletes – one woman and five men, originally from Syria (three), Burundi, Iran and Afghanistan – of which the Refugee Team is composed at the XVI Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, the crowded Japanese capital that has almost 14 million inhabitants.
To my mind the thought of Gross because it is difficult to cheer and rejoice for “the delegation [Italian] more numerous than ever”, as he defined it in the past few days, Luca Pancalli, president of CIP (Italian Paralympic Committee), without thinking that not all athletes paralympic games are free, and no matter how distant their Countries, and even how different their chains, are always men and women fleeing from war and persecution.
“The team paralympic refugees represents about 82 million people who were forced to flee from war, persecution, violations of the rights and poverty: of these, 12 million have a disability,” he told the daily newspaper of Vatican City, Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, which, for years, he collaborates with the Pontifical Council of the Ccultura and with Athletica Vaticana, “to promote a change of mindset across the disability, even with the sport” (bold in this and in subsequent citations).
The refugee Team has grown in number: at the Rio de Janeiro Games, in 2016, it consisted of only two athletes, Ibrahim Al Hussein and Shahrad Nasajpour, both also in Tokyo. I find out who I am and I also know the other members of the Team.
Ibrahim Al Hussein, born in 1988 in Deir al Zor, Syria, became disabled in 2012, while fleeing his country, after having helped a friend hit by a sniper. “He was on the ground shouting for help,” she says. “I knew that if I went to help him I could be hit. But then I would never forgive myself for leaving him in the middle of the road,” he explains. A few seconds later a bomb explodes next to him. This is the balance: “I lost the lower part of my right leg and I also had damage to my left. A dentist helped me””.
Ibrahim was an excellent swimmer, as was his father, who had won 2 silver medals at the Asian Championships. Obviously not a review, reach Istanbul, where some people give him “a prosthesis precarious, but better than nothing: I had to fix it every 300 metres”.The February 27, 2014, that Hussein marks”the beginning of my second life”, able to leave Turkey, and through an adventurous journey and the help of generous people come to Athens. Here a doctor, Angelos Chronopoulos, gives him a real prosthesis, although he can not afford it. “With the prosthesis I found work, cleaned the toilets at the bus station, and I also resumed playing sports,” he says. Since then it has been growing: in 2015 she began to train in the pool built for the Olympics and Paralympics in Athens in 2004, retrieves his skills as a swimmer, he begins to win some competitions, until it receives the “incredible invitation to participate, as a refugee, to the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016”.
“We have a saying in Syria:” do good and throw it into the ocean un one day it will come back to you.” That friend I helped on the street not only survived, but now has three children. And if I lost my leg to help him vita life gave me back so much in generosity from people I didn’t know,” concludes Hussein, who still lives in Athens today where he works as a souvenir craftsman.
“I wrote mountains of mail, undaunted, to everyone without getting knocked down by no!”, Shahrad Nasajpour told The “Osservatore Romano”. “And I did it having nothing in my hand, presenting myself as a man – born with cerebral palsy – just arrived, it was 2015, in the United States from Iran seeking asylum and a better life,” he stressed.
His confidence and stubbornness in the fact that a team of refugees could participate in the Paralympics was such that he succeeded in the enterprise of slipping, at the very last moment, into that of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games. Despite having many limitations on mobility, he had begun to practice some sports already in Iran. Initially he practiced mainly table tennis, then he switched to throwing in athletics, and continued to play sports even after leaving Iran amid a thousand problems and having come to Buffalo, in the state of New York.
“When I entered the stadium in Rio with the Paralympic Committee flag, all the difficulties I had overcome in my life crossed my mind and it was clear that I was not there, in Rio, just for myself, but for all women and men with disabilities and complicated lives.”
After the Rio Games he completed his studies, earning a degree in Public Management Policy from the University of Arizona. He was recently admitted to George Washington University, which he attends with the following purpose: “I want to help people with disabilities and refugees find a way in life even with sports, I must return all the good I received”.”When you are born disabled in Afghanistan you are considered hopeless,” said Abbas Karimi, who was born without arms in Kabul. To bullying “I reacted with violence, I had a very angry childhood and without sport I do not know what a bad end I would have made,” he recalled.
To defend himself and vent his anger, at 12 he began to practice kickboxing, but what changed his life was “the encounter with water”. “I was scared, without arms I was afraid of drowning. Having done it gave me confidence and since that day swimming is my oasis of happiness!».
With his feet Karimi manages to do everything: eat, write and drive the car. Thus he describes his situation: “I believe that God took my arms… “by accident”, but he gave me an extraordinary talent in my feet.”
Karimi also explains the reasons that led him to leave Kabul to go to Turkey, where between 2013 and 2016, he lived in four different refugee camps. “There was a climate of fear. The people of my tribe, the Hazaras, are a target of the Taliban. We were always in danger, so at 16 I fled to Iran and then began a harrowing three-day journey through the mountains to Turkey. The smugglers put me on a very crowded truck. Then I had to walk for miles, afraid of being caught. An impossible journey for everyone, let alone a boy without arms. But I was determined, I wanted a new life. I made it!».
In Turkey Abbas continues to swim and win races. In 2015, Mike Ives, an American coach, sees him compete in a video posted on Facebook and invites him to Portland (Oregon). The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees took him to Tokyo.
Today he trains with Marty Hendrick in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “When I die, I want people to know that Abbas Karimi, without arms, has never given up on his dreams. Yes, by swimming I can do something to change the world!”he says proudly.Parfait Hakizimana was born in the African state of Burundi in 1988, and competes in taekwondo in Tokyo. In 1996 the displaced persons camp where he lived was attacked and his mother was killed. Hakizimana, who was just 8 years old, reported a serious injury to his left arm, which he no longer managed to recover, although the sport helped him improve its functionality.
When he started practicing taekwondo he was 16 years old, at 22 he opened a school, which was active until 2015, when the intensification of violence prompted him to leave Burundi to take refuge in Rwanda. “I fled my Burundi because I was very afraid of being killed like my mother,” he said.
Today he teaches taekwondo to 150 people, including children, in the Mahama Refugee Camp. “Refugees have nothing left, sometimes not even a small hope, but sport helps them to forget the problems and to glimpse it, that hope”. He has a wife and a daughter and would like to return to Burundi to open a gym to teach taekwondo, “thus giving through sport a chance, even small, to the youngest, so that they do not end up crushed in the spiral of violence”.Anas Al Khalifa, born in 1993, was born in Hama, Syria. In 2001 the war dispersed his family and he found himself in a displaced persons camp on the border with Turkey. It took a year to reach Germany. In 2018, while he was mounting solar panels, he had an accident that caused him a spinal injury and a path made of operations, hospitalizations, rehabilitation. Sport was his salvation.
“They suggested to me the canoe – he explained-and here I met Ognyana Dusheva, bronze at the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 for Bulgaria. I didn’t know what kayaking was and most of all I didn’t have confidence in myself. Today when I paddle I no longer perceive my disability and my willpower does the rest”.