The first ever Olympics refugee team

Ten amazing stories, ten extraordinary athletes

Ten incredible stories of five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, two Syrian swimmers, an Ethiopian marathon runner, and two judo players from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR). They represent not a country, but more than 65 million people displaced by war and persecution.

On August 5, they proudly walked at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics carrying the Olympic flag.

Photo: AP
Their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families.
 — UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

1. 25-year-old swimmer Rami Anis, who fled Syria and found refuge in Belgium, said about the first ever refugee team: “We represent all refugees and we want to show the world our potential. We will prove that we are very capable, and when we are provided adequate conditions, we can achieve great results.

2. 400m runner James Nyang Chiengjiek was 13 when he fled his home in South Sudan to avoid being kidnapped by rebels who were forcibly recruiting child soldiers. He said about this new experience: “My dream is to get good results at the Olympics and also to help people. Because I have been supported by someone, I also want to support someone.

3. Yiech Pur Biel, an 800m runner who fled South Sudan 11 years ago, said: “I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education, but also in running, you can change the world.

4. 36-year-old marathoner Yonas Kinde, began running as a teenager in his home country of Ethiopia. But in 2012, Kinde had to flee for Luxembourg. “There are many refugees in the world, they can do good sports, they can do everything,” he said.

5. 21-year-old Anjelina Nadai Lohalith left her home in South Sudan when she was just eight years old. She said: “The Olympics will inspire other refugees because wherever they are they are not just the other people, they are like all of us.

6. South Sudanese runner Rose Nathike Lokonyen became a refugee at the age 10 fleeing her home to seek shelter in the northern Kenyan refugee camps. With no professional training or even proper shoes to run in Rose competed and ran in school competitions but never actually considering it would be her way out of the refugee camps. “I had not been training. It was the first time for me to run, and I came number two, I was very surprised,” the 23-year-old Olympian recalls.

7. As a child back in South Sudan, Paulo Amotun Lokoro herded cattle for his family. But as the civil war spread, his parents fled to Kenya, leaving Paulo with his uncle. Now 24, he’s in Rio representing over 65 million people: “I know I am racing on behalf of refugees. I was one of those refugees in the camp and now I have reached somewhere special.

8.Judo is my life. It helped me escape war, to take another path,” explained judoka Yolande Bukasa Mabika, who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR) three years ago and sought asylum in Brazil.

9. Last year, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini swam for three and half hours to save the lives of her fellow Syrian refugees. Now, she’s trying to shave seconds off her fastest swim time in hopes of setting a personal best. Read her story on the Medium pages of the Malala Fund.

10. When judoka Popole Misenga, a 24-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was only 9 years old he lost his mother to the war that was raging in the country, and he subsequently had to flee his hometown by himself. Now he has a new dream: “I want to be part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team to keep dreaming, to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them.”

Photo: Associated Press

Follow them on Google’s Rio Olympics pages for a bit more about their Olympic experience, their races, and their athletic adventure as members of the first ever Olympic Refugee Team.