Refugee athletes will compete in the Olympics

03 de junho de 2016

São Paulo – Ten refugee athletes, with two Syrians among them, were announced this Friday (3) as members of a team that will compete in Rio 2016 Olympic Games. They will compete on equal footing with the other athletes, neither representing their countries of origin nor the ones in which they now live, but under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The team is formed by refugees coming from different parts of the world. Two Congolese live in Brazil: Popole Misenga, which will compete in the middleweight category in men’s judo, and Yolande Bukasa Mabika, set to compete in the same category in women’s judo. The Syrian refugees selected to participate in the Games are Ramis Anis, a resident of Belgium, in the 100m butterfly men, and Yusra Mardini, a resident of Germany in the 200m freestyle women.

Also part of the group is Yonas Kinde, from Ethiopia, selected to compete in the men’s marathon. He currently lives in Luxembourg. Other five refugees from South Sudan now living in Kenya are also members of the team: Yiech Pur Biel, in track in the 800m men, James Nyang Chiengjiek, in track in the 400m men, Anjelina Nada Lohalith, in track in the 1500m women, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, in track in the 800m women, and Paulo Amotun Lokoro, in track in the 1500m men.

“It’s an amazing opportunity given by the International Olympic Committee in support of the refugees’ cause”, said the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Luiz Fernando Godinho to ANBA. According to him, the participation by the refugees will show that they are strong, determined, skilled people, with the capacity to adapt and overcome obstacles.

The process to select the team began two years ago, when the IOC asked the UNHCR to identify, throughout the world, refugees with experience in sports. Initially, 50 athletes were selected and, after an evaluation based on sporting ability, they were reduced to the ten members of the current and final group.

All of the athletes left their countries due to local conflicts and persecution and found asylum in other nations. Information provided by the UNHCR says this is the first time there will be an Olympic team formed solely by refugee athletes. In the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, on August 5, in Rio de Janeiro, the group will parade together with the Brazilian delegation. If they win a medal, they will receive it under the Olympic flag and anthem, says Godinho.

“We are very pleased with the Olympic team of refugee athletes. They are people that had their sports careers interrupted after being forced out of their countries by violence and persecution. Now, these high-level refugee athletes will finally have the chance to follow their dreams,” said the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, according to a statement released.

*Translated by Sérgio Kakitani