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'We can do anything any human being can do'

Joscha Weber (Rio)August 3, 2016

Yiech Pur Biel fled the war in South Sudan more than 10 years ago. He is now part of the team of refugees set to compete at the Rio Games. He told DW that he sees this as a great opportunity.

Olympia 2016 Flüchtlingsteam Yiech Pur Biel
Image: IOC/Claire Thomas

DW: What does it mean for you to be at the Olympics

Yiech Pur Biel: Yes, actually it means a lot to us as refugees. Because it is the first time that refugees are participating in the Olympics and I hope it will give hope to the millions of refugees, because most of them have lost hope in life.

You will be running in the 800 meters here in Rio. How do you see your chances?

Yes, you know I cannot say now, because we're competing with champions but we are going to try our best as the refugee team to show the world that we can do everything any human being can do, because this is the goal for us and for the millions of refugees.

You fled the civil war in South Sudan in 2005. You only started training a year ago and now you find yourself at the Olympics? How often have you told your story?

I've told a lot of people. We left South Sudan because of war. There was fighting and then I left my parents, both of them, and then I never knew where they were. We have never seen each other since then, but I now know where they are, they are fine. But I'm happy to be under UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) protection. It's because of them I can live my life and appreciate everything, and, I hope I will meet them again, God willing.

Olympia 2016 Flüchtlingsteam Yiech Pur Biel
Yiech Pur Biel is part of a team of ten refugees competing in RioImage: IOC/Claire Thomas

Do you compete for them, for your family as well?

Yes, actually that gives me hope in my life because I hope one day, one time, when I meet one person from that family, he'll need my support, because now I am in Kenya and I must do something which can help my family and fellow refugees.

What are your plans for after these Olympic Games?

After the Olympics I want to continue with my training, but the second thing I want to do is to go to school, because I want to go to university, as in this situation as a refugee we must have something in our mind to change our life, to be a better person in life, because we lose hope.

Some people have said that what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has done with the refugee team is merely a public relations stunt. How do you respond to that?

Actually, this was a good decision from the IOC president (Thomas Bach) because it shows the world that all human beings are the same. We needed to have an opportunity to show this to the world and we are happy for the decision that he made for us and we are going to do something.

Yiech Pur Biel, 21, who fled the war in South Sudan in 2005, is a middle-distance runner and part of the team of refugees, which will compete at the Olympics for the first time at the Rio Games, which open on Friday. After fleeing his homeland, he spent 10 years in one of the world's biggest refugee camps, at Kakuna, Kenya.

The interview was conducted by Joscha Weber.