Watch This Young Refugee Boxer Explain How #TeamRefugees Inspires Him

Can a team of athletes change the narrative about the refugee crisis?

“I like boxing because people look at me as a boxer first, not just a refugee.” So says Abdalla, an 18-year-old refugee who will be eagerly watching the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team as they compete in Rio. In a new video, Abdalla explains why he fled Iraq, how Germany welcomed him, and why his athletic pursuits make being a refugee easier.


The video is part of #TeamRefugees, a hashtag campaign designed to change the current narrative about the refugee crisis–and to show that there is public support for the refugees themselves.

“If there are millions of people using the hashtag, signaling to world and government leaders that the public does stand in support of refugees, we think it could have a great impact–especially as we head into another round of discussion about what governments should be doing and can be doing to support refugees,” says David Ponet from UNICEF, one of a team of organizations behind the video.

The U.S., for example, has struggled to honor its commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees (out of millions who need new homes); public support could provide the political cover needed to change that. As xenophobic rhetoric grows, the new campaign is designed to tell a positive story instead.

“We knew that we wanted to highlight the significance of the Refugee Olympic Team first through the eyes of a young refugee athlete–where the emotional resonance of this event is most immediate,” says Lauren Rodman from Purpose, the creative agency that produced the video. “From there, through the universal appeal of sport, our aim is to help the world see refugees as the incredibly resilient, hardworking, and fearless heroes that they truly are.”

Correction: This post originally identified Abdalla as an Olympian and part of team refugee. He is neither, and we regret the error.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.