World

Refugees Will Compete in Olympics as Unique Team

Ten athletes set to inspire 60 million who are on the run

If refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons around the world were to gather in one place, they’d be the size of a country like Italy or France. At the end of 2014, their numbers reached almost 60 million, and the number has continued to rise since then, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Now, that “small country” will have official representation in the Olympic Games, with the first refugee team to ever compete at the global competition

The International Olympic Committee announced Friday that 10 athletes will comprise the team competing under the Olympic flag in Rio de Janeiro. Six male and four female athletes will walk into the opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium ahead of host country Brazil, CNN reported.

The men are Rami Anis, a Syrian swimmer living in Belgium; South Sudan 800-meter runner Yiech Pur Biel and compatriots James Nyang Chiengijek, a 400m specialist, and Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a 1,500m runner; marathon runner Yomas Kinde from Ethiopia, and judoka Popole Misenga, from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two of the four women included are from South Sudan, with Anjelina Nada Lohalith selected to compete in the 1,500m and Rose Nathinke Lokonyen in the 800m.

Yolande Bukasa Mabika, who left the Democratic Republic of Congo before seeking asylum in Brazil in 2013, will be involved in the 70 kg judo while 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, who left Syria before settling in Germany, will be hoping to make a splash in the swimming pool.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honor and the Olympic flag will lead them into the 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,” Bach added. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.

Misenga and Marika were part of the Congo’s national judo team when they arrived in Brazil three years ago to compete in the Judo World Championships. During the competition, their coach took the whole team’s documents and all their money and disappeared, she told NPR.

The UN refugee agency said it was “very inspired” by the creation of the historic team. “Having had their sporting careers interrupted, these high-level refugee athletes will finally have the chance to pursue their dreams,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “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.”

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.