Syrian refugee offers sporting chance to others in exile

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Wrestling champion Amir Awad from Idlib in Syria fled the conflict and set up a sports centre in Egypt where he hopes to train future champions. Photo: UNHCR

A refugee story with a happy ending, with news that a Syrian former champion wrestler has opened a sports centre in Egypt offering hope to others displaced from the war-torn country.

Amir Awad, the 18-time Syrian National wrestling champion did it rather than risk his family's life by smuggling them to Europe.

He sought help from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and now runs the facility to show other refugees that there is an alternative to attempting the dangerous sea route.

Bronwen Cowley has more.

Amir Awad was 11 when he won his first wrestling match. He went on to win Asian, Arab and Syrian wrestling matches, collecting 18 national championship wins.

The Idlib resident gave it all up when he fled the war in Syria.

After arriving in Alexandria in Egypt, Amir Awad was initially obsessed with the idea of taking his family to Europe, despite the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean Sea on unsuitable vessels run by people-smugglers:

"I thought a lot about taking the path of illegal migration because the legal route was not easy. But fear is stronger than hunger. I felt that I had more responsibility now, with two children, a boy and a girl."

His fears for their safety eventually prompted him to take a job in a restaurant.

While working there, Amir Awad realised that a number of his colleagues were sportsmen like himself.

Together they decided to create a sporting facility and they approached the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for support.

The organisation responded with funds to equip the facility, as well as management training for Amir Awad and his partners.

The Syrian Sports Academy now provides daily training in martial arts disciplines, while Amir Awad's wife, who is a former ballerina, also runs a women's Zumba class there.

Today, Amir Awad's message is that you do not have to risk your life to get to Europe to succeed, or for your skills to be noticed.

He intends to realise his ambition of creating a new generation of champions to continue the work he has started.

Bronwen Cowley, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’44″

 

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