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IOC announces first ever 'Refugee Olympic Team'

June 3, 2016

Ten athletes have been picked to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the event's first refugee team. The team includes a Syrian swimmer living in Berlin who swam for her life trying to reach Greece last year.

Thomas Bach Präsident Internationales Olympisches Komitee
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Gillieron

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday unveiled the members of its first refugee team which will compete at the 2016 games in Rio de Janerio under the Olympic flag.

The 10 member Refugee Olympic Team includes five athletes from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia. They will compete in track and field, swimming and judo events.

"These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem," IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters, adding that "we will offer them a home in the Olympic Village."

"It can send a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world and can send a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society," said Bach.

The refugee team will enter the stadium ahead of host country Brazil under the Olympic flag accompanied by the Olympic anthem. They will also be subject to doping controls, but all expenses will be footed by IOC as the refugee team has no national federation.

UN refugee agency head, Filippo Grandi, called the team "a tribute to the courage and perseverance" of those forced to flee their home countries.

'Historic' Olympic team

Eighteen-year-old Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini, who has been training in Berlin, was overjoyed to be picked for the team.

"I can't describe how happy I am," she told The Associated Press by phone from Berlin shortly after the announcement. "I almost cried."

Mardini and her older sister Sarah arrived in Germany one year ago after enduring a dangerous journey which involved swimming alongside their boat from Turkey to Greece because the vessel was taking on water.

Other members of the six men, four women team include another Syrian swimmer Rami Anis who is now living in Belgium.

South Sudanese runners Yiech Pur Biel, James Nyang Chiengjiek, Anjelina Nada Lohalith, Rose Nathike Lokonyen and Paulo Amotun Lokoro will compete in various track and field events.

Two Congolese judo athletes Yolande Bukasa Mabika and Popole Misenga, both living and training in Brazil are also on the team as well as Ethiopian marathon runner Yonas Kinde, now based in Luxembourg.

The refugee team will be led by Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe who is a world record holder in several long-distance competitions. She was the first African woman to win the New York City marathon and has a foundation which includes a refugee athletic support program.

The South Sudanese athletes were staying at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya before being taken to a training camp run by Loroupe.

rs/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters, SID)

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