The Rio Olympics is two days away from opening, and an important political campaign around it has begun.
The campaign is not about maligning someone or someone trying to gain an electoral upper hand, but about rallying support for a crisis that is said to be the biggest of its kind since World War II. A group of celebrities and community leaders are coming together to highlight the global migrant crisis at the biggest sporting platform in the world -- the Olympics.
The U.N. has already debuted a historic team of 10 refugees, called the "Symbol of Hope" by the International Olympics Committee (IOC), to participate in the Rio Olympics. The U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, aims to deliver a globally signed digital petition in advance of September's U.N. High-Level Plenary of the General Assembly on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.
The campaign called, stand together #WithRefugee, has already received 4,64,349 signatories, thanks to more than 60 global celebrities, who, in the video endorsed the message, "We stand with refugees, please stand with us."
The petition specifically asks all governments to make sure:
• Every refugee child has an education.
• Every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
• Every refugee can work or learn skills to make a positive contribution to their community
But why is the U.N. using Olympics as platform to highlights the global migrant crisis?
Again it's not just because news reports over the past two years indicated that more people around the world had been forcibly displaced than at any time since World War II. It is not merely the astounding figure of 65 million refugees, but the fact that the nature of the catastrophe is worsening.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2016 has been the deadliest year for migrants. Between January 1 and July 28 of 2016, at least 3,034 refugees perished on the Mediterranean Sea.
Compared to last year, the corresponding increase in fatalities has been close to 54%. and 1,970 people had perished in almost the same period a year earlier.
Almost as many Europe-bound asylum seekers and irregular migrants have died on desperate journeys so far this year, than in all of 2015, the deadliest year on record for refugees. A total of 3,771 refugees had lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean in all of 2015.
Doctors Without Borders has even likened smuggling conditions in Libya to "slave trading" in a recent report.
"In a practice similar to slavery, many people have described how they were forcibly taken and held for the purpose of forced labour," Doctors Without Borders said.
"Shuttled between middlemen and 'brokers', locked up at night in detention-style conditions in private homes or warehouses, men are forced to work on construction sites or farms during the day, often for months at a time, until they have paid their way out. Many women report being kept in captivity as domestic servants or forced into prostitution."
The harsher anti- immigration policies of governments across Europe that focuses on border control adopted by countries such as Hungary, France, United Kingdom has certainly accentuated the crisis.
As billions of eager eyeballs glued to their screens, await the start of the Olympics, maybe the refugees participating in the Olympics, the 'symbol of hope', can shine a spotlight and spur on the humanitarian action required to solve the migrant crisis.
You can find the full petition here.