For the first time in Olympic history, refugee athletes were allowed to compete as a team. With no national team or flag of their own, the refugee team marched under the neutral banner of the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony.
The team didn’t represent a country, but shone a light on the 65 million people displaced by war and persecution across the world. “We still are humans,” said Yusra Mardini, the Olympic swimmer from Syria who helped drag a sinking boat full of fellow refugees to safety. “We are not only refugees, we are like everyone in the world.”
The Refugee Nation, an organization recently founded by refugees and officially supported by Amnesty International, commissioned a new flag to highlight the arduous journey Mardini and so many refugees undergo whilst trying to reach safety. The final result was created by the Syrian artist Yara Said, herself a refugee. The black and orange of the flag represents the life jackets that have become synonymous with refugees making the dangerous journey sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.
“Black and orange is a symbol of solidarity for all those who crossed the sea in search of a new country,” Said said in a statement. ”I myself wore one, which is why I so identify with these colors and these people.”
This isn’t the first time an artist has been inspired by a refugee life jacket. Earlier this year, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei collected thousands of life jackets discarded by refugees and covered Berlin’s concert hall with 14,000 of them.
There’s also a “national anthem” of sorts for the Refugee Nation created by Moutaz Arian, a Syrian refugee now living in Istanbul.