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First Refugee Olympic Team Gives Hope to Humanity

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For the first time in history, 10 Olympic athletes will join together to represent not one country but the world’s 60 million refugees.

The Refugee Olympic Team comes from different countries and speaks different languages, but they share hope, strength, and a desire for peace – embodying the Olympic spirit perhaps more than any other team.

“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,” announced Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. “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.”

Meet some of the members of this inspiring team competing in the Rio Olympics, which begins Friday, August 5.

Yusra Mardini, 18, was fleeing war-torn Syria in a jam-packed dinghy when it broke down in the Mediterranean Sea. So she and her sister jumped into the water and swam for three and a half hours, guiding the boat to safety and saving their fellow refugees. She will compete in freestyle swimming. 

Popole Misenga’s mother was murdered when he was 6 years old during a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He eventually learned judo, journeyed across the Atlantic, and moved to a slum in Rio to train. The 24-year-old judoka will compete in his first Olympics in his adopted city.

Yolande Mabika, 28, also fled war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was abused by her judo coach, who locked her in a cage when she lost matches. While competing in the World Judo Championship in Rio in 2013, her coach confiscated her passport and limited her access to food (as usual). She escaped her hotel but went back to rescue Popole Misenga from the same hotel. Brazil granted both of them refugee status in 2014.

Rose Nathike Lokonyen fled South Sudan at age 10 and moved to a refugee camp in Kenya. Until a year ago, the 23-year-old runner had never competed in a race and didn’t even have running shoes. But a teacher in the refugee camp saw her talent and encouraged her to train. She’ll race in the 800 meter competition in the Rio Olympics.

You can learn more about the refugee Olympians at the UN Refugee Agency site.