10 refugee athletes representing 60 million displaced people
It is expected that the ten athletes chosen to represent refugees at the Olympics will be hugely supported by the fans attending the games. The athletes will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team and will march with the Olympic flag ahead of host nation Brazil at this Friday’s opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Each of the refugee athletes have overcome daunting odds to maintain their Olympic dreams.
The athletes include swimmer Yusra Mardini (18) from Syria, who during her escape from Turkey to Greece last year dived into the water and pushed a boat for three hours to get everyone to safety. The team also includes another Syrian swimmer, Rami Anis. Anis fled Syria in 2011 to avoid being enlisted into the army, relocating to Belgium from Istanbul in October last year.
“I’m very proud to be here,” Rami said. “But I feel a bit of sadness that I’m not participating as a Syrian. We are representing people who have lost their human rights and are facing injustices.”
Democratic Republic of Congo born Judokas Popole Misenga and Yolande Makiba faced incredible hardship which included being deprived of food and put in cages if they lost competitions. Popole Misemnga spent eight days hiding in a forest as a terrified child to flee bloody fighting, and said he was competing “to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them. I want to show that refugees can do important things.” He said tearfully on Saturday. “I have two brothers that I haven’t seen for years. I don’t remember their faces. I want to send them hugs and kisses. I’m here in Brazil participating so that one day I can bring them to live with me here in Brazil.”
Ethiopian, marathon runner Yonas Kinde is now European based. He has won many races though thus far has been unable to prove himself at major competitions due to his lack of citizenship. He has been living in Luxembourg for five years and under special protection for the last three years. “I left my country because of political problems. There are many difficulties, morally, economically, and it’s very difficult to be an athlete.” Although his life has greatly improved since moving to Luxembourg, Kinde, who takes French lessons and drives a taxi in order to get by, admits that adjusting to life as a refugee has been a challenge. “At the beginning I didn’t realise the refugee life was like this. It was difficult for the moment. The other side is we are free here. There are some problems with the refugee situation but I remember I have a big change from before and it’s very good.”
South Sudan middle distance runners James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel Paulo Lokoro, Rose Lokonyen and Anjelina Lohalith are training together. The group of athletes, who have gained the required Olympic qualification, will be lining up on the parade during the opening ceremony on Friday, knowing that their effort to compete at the ultimate stage in sports excellence, will inspire hope to millions of their sisters and brothers back home in South Sudan.
“It is not about winning gold, but to show the world that even as a refugee, you can do whatever you want given a chance,” – Anjelina
An estimated 60 million people have fled war, torture and persecution. If any of the team members wins a medal the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic Anthem played at the ceremony.
Team list (clockwise from top left of image)
Yolande Mabika DR of Congo Judo
Popole Misenga DR of Congo Judo
James Chiengjiek South Sudan Athletics
Rami Anis Syria Swimming
Yiech Biel South Sudan Athletics
Yonas Kinde Ethiopia Athletics
Paulo Lokoro South Sudan Athletics
Anjelina Lohalith South Sudan Athletics
Rose Lakonyen South Sudan Athletics
Yusra Mardini Syria Swimming