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Meet the Women Who Are Part of the Olympics' First All-Refugee Team

Meet the Women Who Are Part of the Olympics' First All-Refugee Team

Well, this will give you chills: The International Olympic Commission announced yesterday that four women and six men are part of the first all-refugee team. The Refugee Olympic Team, as it will be known, will compete in running, swimming, and judo, and is made up of athletes from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Syria.

"These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem," said IOC President Thomas Bach in a statement. "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 honor, 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.”

Here are the four women named to the team:


Anjelina Nada Lohalith
Country of origin: South Sudan
Now living in: Kenya
Sport: Running, 1500m
According to the IOC dossier, 21-year-old Lohalith was recognized as a refugee in June 2014. She arrived in Kenya in 2002 to escape from the war and got involved with running in high school. She's been training with the Tegla Loroupe Foundation (named after her current coach) ever since. Her family is still in South Sudan.

"Going to Rio, it might enable me to meet different people, interact with them and learn many skills," she said in an IOC statement. "I'll see many places I’ve never been before, and I might succeed in some way; I might earn some money to at least improve the life of my family."


Rose Nathike Lokonyen
Country of origin: South Sudan
Now living in: Kenya
Sport: Running, 800m
Lokonyen, 23, fled her country 14 years ago and spent 13 of those in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where she placed second in a running competition running barefoot. Her four siblings continue to live in Kakuma, and her parents are still in South Sudan. "I will be very happy to hold the refugee flag because this is where I started my life and where I saw other people," she said in an IOC release. "Hopefully we can come together as one team even from different nationalities and help us interact with people from across the world from all different countries.”

Yolande Bukasa Mabika.jpg

Yolande Bukasa Mabika
Country of origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Now living in: Brazil Sport: Judo, -70kg
Mabika fled her home city of Bukavu three years ago after the civil war and fellow team member Popole Misenga from competing as professional judokas. She made an asylum bid to remain in Brazil after the 2013 World Judo Championships were held in Rio. "My message to [refugees] would be not to give up on hope and to keep believing, to have faith in their hearts," she said in a statement. "We went through a lot of suffering in Congo, and this is still the case nowadays. This is the case of all the refugees around the world who are suffering from their family losses, from the wars, the killings.”


Yusra Mardini
Country of origin: Syria
Now living in: Germany
Sport: Swimming
Mardini fled Damascus, Syria, with her sister, Sarah, just 10 months ago. They left in August, traveling to Lebanon and Turkey before taking a dangerous boat journey to the Greek island of Lesbos. She lives in Berlin now and spoke in the IOC's announcement a little about what she thinks the opening ceremony will feel like for her: "I think I will think about my family and my coach, my friends and everyone who’s helped me, and I will think how proud I am that I did it, and I will try and go back."

The six men on the team are Misenga, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (judo, -90kg); Rami Anis, from Syria (swimming); Yiech Pur Biel, from South Sudan (running, 800m); James Nyang Chiengjiek, from South Sudan (running, 400m); Yonas Kinde, from Ethiopia (marathon); and Paulo Amotun Lokoro, from South Sudan (running, 1500m).

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