Geneva (IOM) – Every Olympian, in their way, is a migrant—undertaking a life-changing journey towards their goal of athletic perfection.
Yet many are more migratory than others, particularly those from the world’s least developed countries who often must leave home to access the resources necessary to transform themselves into world-beating athletes.
Migrants born abroad often become citizens of the country under whose Olympic flags they compete. Others compete for their homelands, but only after training abroad to hone their competitive skills.
Such an athlete is Sabrina Simader—Kenyan born, but mostly Austrian bred, migrating with her mother to Liezen in the Austrian Alps, where she discovered a talent for snow sports. Sabrina is skiing for Kenya this year.
Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean is a 24-year-old cross-country skier representing Togo at the Games. She was born in Kpalimé, north of Lomé, the Togolese capita, moving to France at age four. Petitjean made her Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014; she trains in Canada and is the first Togolese to compete in cross-country skiing, entering both sprint and 10km disciplines.
Then there’s Ngozi Onmuwere, Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga—Nigeria’s bobsled team—three daughters of Nigerian émigré parents, each born in the USA (in, respectively, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota). All three began as track and field specialists, and then individually gravitated to winter sports.
While two already compete internationally for Nigeria in track and field, as a trio they became Nigeria’s first delegation to the Winter Olympics. Eritrea is the other African nation competing in the Winter Games for the first time.
Someone worth watching was Akwasi Frimpong, a Ghanaian national competing in the skeleton event. At the end of his run on Saturday—where he placed last—he broke into a joyous celebratory dance, delighting both fans in Korea and around the world as a joyful video of his antics went viral.
The 32-year-old athlete is the first West African to compete in the skeleton event. Born in Kumasi, Ghana, he started life in a modest home with his grandmother and nine other children. At the age of eight he arrived in The Netherlands, joining his mother who emigrated earlier. Frimpong spent years as an irregular migrant, living without proper documentation until his early twenties.
Frimpong’s journey recalls countless attempts by other West Africans to reach Europe, many of whom fall prey to the hazards of irregular routes, especially through Libya. Lack of information about legal channels puts migrants’ lives at risk as they face detention and abuse by unscrupulous smugglers. Just in 2018, 2,562 migrants from West African countries have voluntarily returned home from Libya.
Led by IOM, the Aware Migrants campaign aims to inform migrants of the dangers of irregular migration by sharing testimonies of returnees, but also through music. In November last year, Ghanaian rapper and songwriter Kofi Kinaata became IOM’s first Goodwill Ambassador.
As part of the Aware Migrants campaign, Kinaata will release a song aimed at encouraging Ghanaian youth to value their lives and not take unnecessary risks in chasing illusionary greener pastures. The campaign also shares information about legal channels of migration to Europe as well as livelihood opportunities in countries of origin.
Speaking to CNN, about the many challenges he overcame on his way to the Olympics, Frimpong said, "I hope I can motivate kids in Ghana to chase their dreams."