Yesterday (Wednesday 9 February) UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Judo Federation (IJF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Judo for Peace programmes and IJF activities to help support refugee inclusion.
Raouf Mazou and Marius Vizer

UNHCR was represented by Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations and the IJF by President Marius Vizer.

UNHCR and IJF have been working together closely for many years to help the refugee community and the MOU represents an enhanced commitment to the strategic partnership between the two organisations. It will focus on the inclusion of refugees in sports, with emphases on  social cohesion, development, child protection and gender equity.

The partnership is aimed at increasing access to sporting and cultural facilities and activities in refugee-hosting areas, as well as supporting talent detection to offer new opportunities to refugees. The Global Compact on Refugees recognises the important role that sports and cultural activities can play in social development, inclusion, cohesion and well-being, particularly for refugee boys and girls and the youth, as well as older people and those with disabilities.

After an introduction by Annika Sandlung, Head of the Partnership and Coordination Service at UNHCR, who emphasised the importance of the partnership to bring the spirit of judo to a wider audience, Mr Vizer said, “It is our great pleasure and honour to sign this important Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR at a global level. Through establishing Judo for Peace activities and implementing the judo values and principles, we foster a better social integration of refugees and generally speaking of everyone. We are sure that hundreds of thousands around the world enjoy the practice of judo and we hope that by signing this partnership we will infuse a new energy and give more amplitude to what has already been done for several years. Be sure that the International Judo Federation will continue to do its best in the future to ensure that everyone has access to the sport and can enjoy its values."

Mr Mazou added, “Within a short timespan, the number of refugees and internally displaced people has doubled, going from 41 to 82 million and 40% of them are under 18 years old. We believe that sport is important and will help us achieve better human rights. 

In Rio de Janeiro, in 2016, two refugee judoka participated in the Olympic Games and helped to spread the values of judo. Today several programmes are running, notably in Southern Africa and we are very pleased to be able to sign this MOU with the IJF today.

Vlad Marinescu, IJF Director General, said, "It is an historic moment. Sports and judo in particular have the power to change lives and futures. Through our support programme, we were able to have several refugee athletes in Tokyo last summer and for the first time the refugee team participated in the mixed team event. Through this partnership with UNHCR, we will be able to solidify our programmes and contribute to the betterment of society at a global level."

Nicolas Messner, IJF Judo for Peace Director, underlined that the long-term relationship between the UNHCR and the IJF has already led to the development of concrete activities on the field in Turkey, Zambia, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Angele Dikongue-Atangana, UNHCR’s Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Southern Africa, gave more details about the ongoing programmes, "Today we are delighted to be the witnesses of this signing ceremony. As a region we are proud and we strongly believe in the power of sport. Judo has become a very important sport here because it brings peace, it provides a safe space and offers chances to increase the life skills of so many young people, especially girls. We need to support this social cohesion. It is an inspiration for many."

Two young refugees who are part of the Judo for Peace programme in South Africa also participated in the ceremony. One of them, Jennifer Shumba, said, “I’m happy about the signing of this MOU between the IJF and the UNHCR. As a beneficiary of the Judo for Peace project, I can see that it will have a positive impact on our lives. Judo has already changed so much for those of us who were forced to flee our countries of origin. We believe in the judo values. Thank you so much to the IJF and UNHCR for all the support."

Another, Moïse Mbemba, added, “I became a member of the Judo for Peace dojo in 2018, along with my brother. Joining judo to me was really a blessing because I have always been looking for dojos to join since my childhood. I remember the first time I set foot in the Judo for Peace dojo; I was so amazed by how welcoming the judoka were to us. What delighted my heart the most was seeing people of different countries coming together to do judo in one dojo. I am grateful to judo and my sensei because through him I was able to engrave all the principles of judo on my life. Judo made me a better person; apart from judo making me physically strong it made me mentally strong too. Being in a country with high levels of crime, we have to ensure that we are off the streets. For me, judo kept me off the streets. While there was crime taking place outside, I was on the tatami doing judo. 

Today I want to present my special thanks to President Marius Vizer and the members of the IJF for allowing this programme to run. I want to also thank UNCHR for their support, for always being there for our dojo here in South Africa. I believe together we will make judo grow exponentially worldwide."

The signing of the MOU is a step forward to reinforce the cooperation between the two organisations and will help with the development of more programmes in the field, to help more people in the years to come.


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.


The IJF, recognised as the sole organisation in charge of the development of judo worldwide, is committed to build specific programmes and activities to support refugees and foster social cohesion and youth development, without any kind of discrimination, including educational programmes within refugee communities and sport-oriented initiatives to help with the participation of refugees in international competitions and events.

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