10 awe-inspiring Olympians - The Refugee Olympic Team
At the Rio 2016 Olympics this year many exceptional athletes have come forwards to represent their countries in the world’s greatest athletic competition. However, there is one team in particular that is not representing a country because these athletes do not have countries to represent. This team is made up of some awe-inspiring individuals and is called The Refugee Olympic Team.
The athletes belonging to The Refugee Olympic Team originate from countries such as Syria, South Sudan and Ethiopia but all have refugee status and are currently living in different countries across the globe.
These ten athletes have come together as one team to show the world that not only are refugees people, but that they are strong, exceptional people who have a lot to offer any country that they come to live in.
The ten refugees declaring their strength for the world to see are:
Originally from Syria, Rami is currently a refugee living in Belgium. When the war in Syria started, Rami was 20 years old and would have been eligible to join the army. To avoid that, Rami and his family had to leave the country.
He swam in the men’s 100m butterfly in the Rio 2016 Olympics and although he did not get past the heats he told UNHCR's Warda Aljawahiry, "Representing the refugee team is an honour to me. I am proud to be representing refugees and all those oppressed. I take great pride in that."
Yiech Pur Biel
Originally from South Sudan, Pur is currently a refugee living in Kenya. He fled South Sudan with his relatives to escape war but unfortunately his parents were left behind. He has not been back to South Sudan since.
He is competing in the 800m men’s athletics this afternoon (12th August) and, amazingly, when he began competitive running he did not even own a pair of running shoes.
James Nyang Chiengjiek
James is also originally from South Sudan and currently lives in Kenya. His father was a soldier who died in 1999 during the war but James escaped from South Sudan as he was under the risk of being taken by the army. He arrived in Kenya in 2002 and integrated the Kakuma Refugee camp where went to school and started running.
In 2013 the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told him of a selection process to join the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and he has been training there ever since. He is competing in the 400m men’s athletics on Saturday (13th August).
Yonas is originally from Ethiopia but is currently a refugee living in Luxembourg. He is lucky enough to train at the national school of physical education and sports in Luxembourg. Yonas is competing in the men’s marathon on Sunday 21st August – the last day of the Rio 2016 Olympic.
Anjeline Nada Lohalith
Originating from South Sudan, Anjeline is now a refugee living in Kenya. At only six years old, Anjeline and her aunt escaped the war in South Sudan in 2002. Thirteen years later she participated, barefoot, in a 10km run organised by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. Based on her promising results, she was selected and has been training with the Foundation ever since.
She will be competing in the women’s 1500m athletics race and said, “I’m happy because it will be the first time refugees are represented in the Olympics. It will inspire other refugees because wherever they are they will see that they are not just the ‘other people’. They will have that encouragement that they can compete in any way.”
Rose Nathike Lokonyen
Rose is also from South Sudan and now living in Kenya. She left her home country because of the war and arrived in the Kakuma refugee camp in 2002. She left South Sudan with her parents and siblings, however, her parents went back to South Sudan in 2008. She competed in the same 10km run as Anjeline and has been training with the Tegla Loroupe Foundation ever since.
Rose will be competing in the women’s 800m athletics on Wednesday of next week (17th August).
Paulo Amotun Lokoro
Originally from South Sudan, Paulo now lives in Kenya as a refugee. In 2006 Paulo left the war-ridden South Sudan to reunite with his mother who arrived in the Kakuma camp in 2004. When the Tegla Loroupe Foundation organised the athletics trials at the camp in 2015, Paulo performed outstandingly and has been part of the foundation ever since.
Paulo will be competing in the men’s 1500m athletics on Tuesday next week (16th August). He has high hopes for the race, “A dream would be to break a record. To win a medal, a gold, that is my dream,” he said.
Yolande Bukasa Mabika
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yolande is a refugee currently living in Olympic host country, Brazil. Yolande is a professional Judoka originally from Bukavu, the area worst affected by the DRC civil war from 1998-2003. After years of difficult training conditions, she decided, along with her friend and fellow Judoka Popole, to seek asylum in Brazil during the World Judo Championships in Rio in 2013.
Yolande competed in the women’s 70kg Judo tournament but unfortunately did not advance past the first round. However, she is still keeping her head up, she told The Guardian, “Judo is my life. It helped me escape war, to take another path. I feel that many people liked me. I’m representing many nations and my victory is a victory for all refugees in the world.”
Popole escaped the Democratic Republic of Congo with Yolande and now is a refugee living in Brazil. He is a professional Judoka who left Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo because the civil war created years of difficult training conditions.
Popole beat India’s Avtar Singh to make it into the round of 16 in the men’s 90 kg judo competition. He did not advance to the next round, however he was still pleased due to his initial win. He said he was sure his family in Congo had seen him on television and that he "was sending them a kiss wherever they are."
Originally from Syria, Yusra now lives as a refugee in Germany. Prior to the war in Syria, Yusra was a competitive swimmer. As the war intensified, Yusra and her sister left Damascus in early August 2015 and after a horrific journey reached Berlin in September 2015.
Just 11 months after she plunged into the bitingly cold Aegean Sea to help push a sinking dinghy, overcrowded with 20 migrants, to sanctuary, she was competing in the Rio Olympics. She was unfortunately beaten in the women's 100-metre freestyle, however, she told reporters, “It was quite hard, but an amazing feeling to be in the water. I am really proud and happy. This team is amazing. All the colours, countries, all the nations – it’s amazing.”