An Olympic first to inspire us all

Story highlights

  • Summer Games begin in Rio de Janeiro
  • Mia Farrow: Against all odds, the refugee team will inspire millions of fellow refugees

Mia Farrow is an actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)Unspeakable violence, persecution, war and the subsequent hunger and disease is forcing families to flee from their homes and lands to join an unprecedented 65 million forcibly displaced people (approximately half of them children) across the globe. These homeless souls now constitute the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Many of the Syrian refugee children I met in Lebanon's icy Beqaa Valley have never known life without war, fear and instability. Studies show that exposure to violence releases chemicals of toxic stress that prevent a child's brain from developing normally. Unknown numbers of displaced children are suffering from reduced cognitive capacity -- lifelong sentences for them, their families and their societies.
    Nations and individuals have stepped forward to welcome refugees, ready to soothe the traumatized children. But these valuable voices are being smothered in an ugly surge of anti-migrant, xenophobic shouting born of fear. The refugees hear this -- and so do world leaders -- as they struggle to fashion a response to the crisis.
    Abdalla is a young Iraqi refugee boxer who fled Iraq for Berlin.
    This week in Rio de Janeiro, 10 athletes mostly from war-torn countries have come together to form the first refugee team in Olympic history. They will compete alongside the world's finest teams under the Olympic banner. But, unlike the other athletes, they have no home host, no national anthem, no flag or cheering fan base. Still, no athlete -- however accomplished -- will be trying harder than the members of the Olympics refugee team.
    Against all odds, they will be there to represent and inspire the millions of fellow refugees who are fighting hopelessness and will surely be following the Olympic Games from cell phones and radios in squalid camps and settlements. We, too, can find strength and inspiration in the courage, determination and resilience they embody.
    We can show the Refugee Team our support and solidarity by educating ourselves on the facts and insisting on positive action from our elected officials. We can't all be Olympic athletes, but we can cheer loudly through the hashtag #TeamRefugees. And we can do our personal best to show our political leaders, and so many of our countrymen, that fear will never eclipse our humanity, compassion and common decency.