2016 marked the first year that a refugee team participated in the Olympics. The athletes came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Syria; and they represent the estimated 65 million refugees around the world. These athletes are symbols of those who've had to leave their homes, families, and lives behind them in order to find safety – but didn’t leave their drive, talent, or skill.
Two of the participants on the Refugee Olympic Team were swimmers who escaped from Syria. Rami Anis fled Syria in 2015, crossed the Mediterranean by boat, and ended up in Belgium. He competed in two 100m men’s swimming events, where he was met with standing ovations. Yusra Mardini, also a swimmer, made headlines when she jumped off her capsizing boat to reduce the weight on it and save the 19 others on board. Yusra, her sister, and another strong swimmer were forced to swim for three hours across the Aegean sea, holding on to the dinghy and relying on their swimming skills to survive.
At Altus Dynamics, we’re proud to work with clients who deliver valuable services to refugees and are just as inspiring as these Olympic athletes. One example is Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services, who offer services at no cost to refugee newcomers including English courses, settlement assistance, mental health support, and child and youth programs. Polycultural has been instrumental in the resettlement efforts of thousands of Syrian refugees like Rami and Yusra.
Joining the Altus Dynamics community this year we also welcomed COSTI Immigrant Services and the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) - two other inspiring nonprofits that are specifically focused on serving refugees.
COSTI Immigrant Services operates from 17 locations in and around Toronto, and provides services in more than 60 languages. They work to ensure that regardless of language or cultural barriers, people who arrive in Canada are able to use their existing skills, learn new ones, and participate actively in all aspects of Canadian life. COSTI was responsible for the Syrian resettlement project in Greater Toronto, helping to find safe, affordable homes for families that could be as large as 13 people.
The USCRI was founded at the turn of the century, back in 1911, in order to help those who had migrated to the USA by advancing fair and humane public policy, facilitating and providing direct professional services, and promoting the full participation of migrants in community life.
The USCRI continues their call for the USA to increase the numbers of Syrian refugees being resettled into the country with a focus on the positive, “Every time a refugee rents an apartment, every time a refugee shops for food, there’s some income coming in for the city and going into the tax base… There’s a new realization that refugees can be an economic engine for [small US communities],” said Eskinder Negash, a senior vice president of USCRI.
The goals of all of these organizations is to welcome all newcomers and to ensure that safety, high quality of life, and ability to participate meaningfully in the community is possible in their new home. Whether it is going to school or competing in the Olympics, refugees should be able to join, share, and excel in all aspects of life that they choose. The 2016 Refugee Olympic Team has drawn the worlds eyes to the plight of refugees – and to their truly incredible potential.