The first female member of the Paralympic Refugee team said on Monday it was an “honor” to be at the Tokyo Games, urging other women with disabilities to get involved in the sport.
Alia Issa will be one of two flag bearers for the six-person refugee team at the opening ceremony for Tuesday’s Paralympic Games, which were delayed for a year by the pandemic.
The 20-year-old, who was born in Greece and whose family is from Syria, will compete in the club’s throwing event in Tokyo – and she hopes others will follow her example.
“I want to tell other disabled women not to stay at home, to try to play sports every day, to be out in the world. I hope to be the first example to follow, ”she said at a press conference.
“I never believed that I would participate in the Paralympic Games once in my life and that I would be the first female refugee at the Paralympic Games here in Tokyo. It is a great honor for me. “
When she was four years old, Issa contracted smallpox, which damaged her nervous system. She now uses a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking.
She started parasports three years ago and has been training club throw for two years.
She will carry the refugee team flag on Tuesday with swimmer Abbas Karimi, who grew up in Afghanistan.
This is just the second time that a refugee team has participated in the Paralympic Games, after Rio in 2016.
On Tuesday, the team’s chef de mission, Ileana Rodriguez, said the six Paralympians represent “82 million internally displaced people” and want to send a message of hope.
“We are very grateful to countries that host refugees and we encourage countries that can support refugees to do so,” Rodriguez said.
“We hope this is a strong message that we can also leave to the Japanese people. “
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, granted refugee status to 47 people in 2020, just over one percent of asylum applications received that year, according to official data.
Rodriguez added that “our hearts go out to all the Afghan people”.
Afghans trying to flee the Taliban have overwhelmed the US-led military operation at Kabul airport, sparking tragic scenes in which at least seven people have died.
© 2021 AFP