UN Refugee team to compete at Rio Olympics in solidarity with displaced people

Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a refugee from South Sudan, training on the Ngong track on the outskirts of Nairobi. (Picture: UNHCR)

Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a refugee from South Sudan, training on the Ngong track on the outskirts of Nairobi. (Picture: UNHCR)

In a show of solidarity with the displaced people of the world, 2016’s Rio Olympics will, for the first time, have a team like no other.

In March, the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach stated that the IOC would choose five to 10 refugees to compete in Rio. They are expected to compete under the Olympic flag and will be called “Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes”, with the IOC country code ROA.

The group comprises five athletes from South Sudan, two from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), two from Syria, and one from Ethiopia. In addition to the 10 athletes, the group will include 12 officials.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the initiative to send a refugee team to the Rio Games is unprecedented and sends a strong message of support and hope for refugees worldwide. The UNHCR did note, however, that the global population of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers, reached a record 59.5-million at the end of 2014 and continues to increase.

“We are very inspired by the Refugee Olympic Athletes team – having had their sporting careers interrupted, these high-level refugee athletes will finally have the chance to pursue their dreams,” said UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi.

The refugee team members as announced by the IOC are:

  • Rami Anis : Country of origin – Syria; host NOC (National Olympic Committee) – Belgium; sport – swimming

  • Yiech Pur Biel: Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

  • James Nyang Chiengjiek: Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 400m

  • Yonas Kinde: Country of origin – Ethiopia; host NOC – Luxembourg; sport – athletics, marathon

  • Anjelina Nada Lohalith: Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

  • Rose Nathike Lokonyen: Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

  • Paulo Amotun Lokoro: Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

  • Yolande Bukasa Mabika: Country of origin – DRC; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -70kg

  • Yusra Mardini: Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming

  • Popole Misenga: Country of origin – DRC; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -90kg

While introducing the group, Bach remarked, “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the word. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium. This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. 

“It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”

Read the athletes and their entourage bios here.

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