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James Nyang Chiengjiek |© Marcosfaria70/WikiCommon
James Nyang Chiengjiek |© Marcosfaria70/WikiCommon
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Meet The Refugees Competing In The Rio Olympics

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 18 December 2016
It’s not easy being the best in the world, and all Olympians face extraordinary physical and mental challenges on the path to the top of their sports. But what about athletes who are also refugees, individuals who have faced unimaginable hardship yet have become Olympic competitors? Here we profile some of the most remarkable and inspiring athletes of this year’s Rio Olympics.

Team Of Refugee Olympic Athletes

Between August 5th and 21st, nine refugees will compete in the Games as independent participants. In response to a worldwide refugee crisis, in particular the European migrant crisis, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided to create a new team, the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. In typical Olympic spirit, the effort to create a refugee team aims to show solidarity with the world’s refugees.

The Refugee Athletes

Selected refugees from all over the world will compete under IOC country code ROA. The final selection was decided by the NOC (National Olympic Committee) for sporting ability, personal circumstances, and UN-verified refugee status. Here we take a look at the athletes selected and their remarkable stories.

Yusra Mardini

Seventeen-year-old Mardini, from Syria, was crossing to Greece from Turkey when the motor stopped in the inflatable boat in which she was traveling. She swam the rest of distance then crossed mainland Europe, eventually reaching Germany. The NOC in Germany selected her to compete in the 200 meter freestyle swimming after her display of exceptional talent.

Yusra Mardini, Olympic swimmer |© Laurent Jerry/WikiCommons
Yusra Mardini, Olympic swimmer | © Laurent Jerry/WikiCommons

Popole Misenga

From the Democratic Republic of Congo, Misenga will compete in the 90 kilogram Judo event. During the Second Congo War, his mother was murdered before he fled to a rainforest seeking safety. He eventually gained asylum in Brazil.

James Chiengjiek

Chiengjiek fled South Sudan to Kenya to avoid being recruited by rebels as a child solider. He was officially granted refugee status in 2014 and started running while attending school in Kenya, often training without shoes, which led to injury. He was recognized for his extraordinary running abilities and will compete in the 400 meter event.

James Nyang Chiengjiek |© Marcosfaria70/WikiCommon
James Nyang Chiengjiek | © Marcosfaria70/WikiCommon

Yiech Biel

In 2005, Biel fled his home town of Nasir in South Sudan to escape civil war, finally reaching a refugee camp in Kenya. For 10 years, he trained for running without shoes, without a gym, and in unfavorable weather conditions. Despite these hardships, he became a world-class athlete and will compete in the men’s 800 meter event.

Paulo Lokoro

Lokoro will compete in the men’s 1500 meter athletics event. Originally from South Sudan, he fled his home in 2006 to escape war, claiming asylum in Kenya. While living in a refugee camp, he won a spot on the refugee squad, training under the expert guidance of Tegla Loroupe, a renowned Kenyan runner who holds several world records. Lokoro started training without proper shoes, yet she persevered and became an exceptional athlete.

Yonas Kinde

Kinde is slated to compete in the men’s marathon. He started running as a teenager and ran his fastest marathon in Frankfurt, Germany, clocking in at an incredible two hours and 17 minutes. Originally from Ethiopia, he sought international protection in Luxembourg, where he is now learning French while working as a taxi driver.

Yonas Kinde, Olympic competitor |©
Yonas Kinde, Olympic competitor | ©

Rami Anis

When the bombings and kidnappings intensified in Aleppo, Syria, Syrian-born Anis fled to Turkey before taking a dinghy to Greece and eventually claiming refuge status in Belgium. It was in Belgium that this talented swimmer, who began competing in Aleppo at age 14, began training at a higher level. Today he credits his uncle, who was also a competitive swimmer, with inspiring his own passion for the sport. Recognized as a powerful swimmer, Anis will compete in the men’s 100 meter butterfly.

Anjelina Lohalith

Originally from South Sudan, Lohalith fled her country when she was six years old, as civil war and violence threatened her home village. She soon found herself in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, which is one of the largest refugee camps in the world with approximately 179,000 residents. Her talent was quickly spotted when she took up running, and she will compete in the women’s 1,500 meter.

Yolande Mabika

Mabika will compete in the women’s 70 kilogram Judo. As a child in the Bukavu area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mabika was separated from her parents during the Second Congo War and transported to a children’s home in the capital Kinshasa. She remembers little of the experience, only that a helicopter picked her up and took her to safety. In Kinshasa, she trained in Judo, a sport that the government encourages orphans to practice in order to establish structure in their lives. She later sought political asylum in Brazil, where she currently trains.

Yolande Mabika |© UNHCR
Yolande Mabika | © UNHCR

Rose Lokonyen

Escaping the war in South Sudan, Lokonyen began running competitively in Kenya, when a teacher suggested that she run a 10 kilometer race. When she finished in second place, Lokonyen began to realize her own talent. Today, she see the Olympics as an opportunity to inspire others. This exceptional runner will compete in the women’s 800 meter event.