When they were selected to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics, the competition’s first-ever refugee team had neither flag nor anthem. So the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lent them both, as it did for several independent athletes: At the opening ceremonies, they marched under the Olympic flag. The Olympic anthem would be played for their victories.
But now Team Refugees can choose their own flag and anthem, thanks to a group of refugee supporters who’ve joined creative forces under the name Refugee Nation. They’re supported by Amnesty International, which sees the initiative as an “opportunity to change how the public thinks of refugees,” according to a spokesman.
Amsterdam-based Syrian refugee Yara Said has designed a new flag for the team: orange with a black band across. It was inspired by the inflatable jackets that many refugees wear when crossing the Mediterranean. “Black and orange is a symbol of solidarity with all these brave souls that had to cross the sea to look for safety in a new country,” says Said in a video presenting the flag.
Syrian composer Moutaz Arian—who now lives in Istanbul—saw to the anthem. ”I want to make music not just for Kurds or Arabs, but for the whole world,” says Arian. His composition has no lyrics, he explains. “This language doesn’t need translation.”
So far, the flag has not been officially accepted by the IOC. The Olympic governing body tells Quartz in an email that Team Refugee will continue to compete under the Olympic Flag “as a sign of solidarity of the entire Olympic movement with the refugees.” However, Artur Lipori, one of the founding organizers of Refugee Nation, told Mashable that the IOC did allow his group to deliver the flag to athletes and supporters. An online petition is asking the IOC to make it official.
Asked in the video if he would take the orange and black flag to Rio, Refugee Team judoka Popole Misenga had no doubt. ”Everybody will bring the flag of their country,” he said. ”I’ll bring the flag of my team. The refugees.”