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May 06, 2016 03:13 PM

Torch relay

Learn about the story of the Syrian refugee who was one of the torch bearers in Brasilia

Act on Esplanade of Ministries represented a symbolic gesture of solidarity to refugees worldwide

Twelve year-old Syrian refugee Daqqah Hanan, who has been living in Brazil since 2015, was one of the first bearers of the Olympic torch in Brasília (DF) on May 3. Hanan was chosen by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee based on a recommendation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brazil and participated in the first day of the torch relay on Brazilian soil.

The teenager received the flame from gymnast Ângelo Assumpção and carried it through the Esplanade of Ministries shortly after the start of the relay at the Planalto Palace. The act was a symbolic gesture of solidarity to refugees worldwide at a time when millions flee from war, conflict and persecution. There are about 20 million refugees all over the world - the largest number since the end of World War II.

Hanan Daqqah receives the flame from gymnast Ângelo Assumpção. Photo: UNHCR

"Today I don't feel like a refugee, but like any other Brazilian girl carrying the torch," Hanan said. The President of the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), Beto Vasconcelos, stressed the importance of Hanan's participation in the relay. "The Olympic Games are an international event whose meaning is marked by unity, solidarity, respect and peace among peoples. It is therefore a unique opportunity to draw attention to the sad human drama lived by those suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years", said Vasconcelos. The Rio Olympics will be joined by a delegation of refugee athletes.

The Olympic flame of the 2016 Games was lit on 21 April in the Greek city of Olympia. On 26 April, Syrian refugee Ibrahim Al-Hussein carried the torch in the Eleonas camp in Athens.

The Brazilian leg of the torch relay began on May 3 and will last for about 90 days. The journey will end at the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 5, when the Olympic cauldron will be lit.

Syrian refugee Hanan Daqqah in the torch relay in Brasilia. Photo: G. Morale/UNHCR


Hanan lives with her family in São Paulo and arrived in Brazil in 2015. She lives in a small apartment in downtown São Paulo with her parents, an older brother and a younger sister, in addition to her uncle and aunt and four cousins. Fully integrated in Brazil, she attends a public school near her home, speaks fluent Portuguese and has several Brazilian friends.

She and her family used to live in the city of Idlib, in north-eastern Syria. Her city became one of the stages of the conflict when the civil war broke out amidst disputes between government forces and rebel groups. Feeling unsafe in Syria, Hanan and her family left the country and sought refuge in Jordan. There, they lived for two and a half years in the Za'atari refugee camp, where access to water required long walks and conditions were harsh.

The family decided to leave Jordan and immigrate to Brazil via the special humanitarian visa program of the federal government, which facilitates the entry into the country of people affected by the conflict in Syria. About 8,000 of these special visas have been issued by the Brazilian authorities. Hanan and her family were recognized as refugees and are now rebuilding their lives in São Paulo. Hanan's mother is pregnant, and soon she will have a Brazilian sister – who will be born at the end of this month.

According to the CONARE, Syrians represent the largest community of recognized refugees in Brazil: 2,250 out of a total of 8,731. The war in Syria has already made more than 4.8 million refugees, who live mainly in neighbouring countries.

Source: Brazil Portal, with information from the Ministry of Justice and the UNHCR