Syrian refugee carries Olympic flame through migrant camp

Syrian refugee carries Olympic flame through migrant camp
2 min read
28 Apr, 2016
Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein, who lost part of his leg to a bomb in his war torn country, carried the Olympic torch through a refugee camp in Athens on Tuesday.
Ibrahim al-Hussein received the flame from the head of Greece's Olympic Committee [Getty]
Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein, 27, carried the Olympic flame for the Rio de Janeiro Games through a refugee camp in Athens, as part of a global initiative to promote sports among 60 million displaced people.

Hussein received the flame from the head of Greece's Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos and ran with a prosthetic limb fitted below his right knee carrying the torch through the Elaionas camp in Athens, home to about 1,500 refugees.

"This is such an honor for me," Hussein said "This is for every Syrian and ever Arab who has gone through so much."

As a swimming-mad teenager in Syria, Hussein was glued to his TV set for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Twelve years later in Athens, and now a war refugee who is disabled, he still loves swimming.

"It's a great honor and pride for me to carry the Olympic Torch ... and the pride is not only for me but for all Syrian migrants who came (to Europe)," Hussein said. "But I'm not just a refugee, I'm an athlete too."

Growing up in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, on the River Euphrates, Hussein was taught to swim at age five by his father, a swimming coach who will be watching his stint in the relay on TV.

Three of Hussein's 13 siblings are also competitive swimmers.

"The river was 10 minutes on foot from my home," Hussein said, adding that he would swim there for five or 10km, and then dive with his friends into the Euphrates from the city's great suspension bridge.

But Hussein lost part of his right leg to a bomb in 2012, during Syria's civil war that destroyed his city. 

He fled to Turkey, and crossed from its coast to the eastern Greek island of Samos in early 2014 in a rubber dinghy that carried 16 people.

Unlike most other refugees, Hussein chose to stay in financially-struggling Greece, seeking and receiving asylum there.

Hussein has since found a home, a job and training facilities - he swims three times a week and plays basketball in a wheelchair five times a week with an Athens club - and has learnt to speak and read Greek.

At 5 o'clock every afternoon, he starts work at a cafeteria where his shift can stretch for more than 10 hours.

The flame is set to travel to Switzerland next, where it will visit the UN building in Geneva and the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

Agencies contributed to this report.