They do not belong to any national team. They have no national flag to march behind. But this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, four women refugees are given a chance to live their Olympic dreams.
Yusra Mardini from Syria, Anjaline Nadai Lohalith and Rose Nathike Lokonyen from South Sudan, and Yolande Bukasa Mabik from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, together with six male refugees, made history as the first-ever members of the Refugee Olympic Team.
The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created the Refugee Olympic Team for the Olympic Games in Rio early this year. The refugee team is treated at the Olympic Games like all the other 206 national teams.
The members of the refugee team were chosen based on their sporting level, official refugee status verified by the United Nations, personal situation and background.
Yusra, 18 years old, competed in the 100-meter butterfly and freestyle swimming categories.
The world rejoiced when Yusra finished first in Heat 1 of the 100-meter butterfly category. She failed, however, to qualify for the semifinals for both 100-meter butterfly and freestyle categories.
Although she lost, this did not dampen Yusra’s spirit. “It was quite hard, but an amazing feeling to be in the water. I am really proud and happy. This team is amazing. All the colors, countries, all the nations – it’s amazing,” she told reporters after her race.
Before the war in Syria, she was a competitive swimmer who represented Syria in international competitions. As the Syrian war intensified, Yusra, together with her sister Sarah, left Damascus in early August 2015. The two sisters won the hearts of many when they jumped into the cold Aegean Sea, swam for hours and pushed their sinking dinghy to safety. The Mardini sisters arrived in Berlin in September 2015. Since then, Yusra has trained at the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 club in Berlin.
Yolande Bukasa Mabik
Yolande, 30 years old, competed in the 70-kilogram Judo category.
“This Olympic experience… I’m very happy, very happy with this day. I will never forget this day, even having lost my fight. I am a warrior. Fighting is not only judo. This is the fight for life. I’m representing a lot of nations,” Yolande said after she lost to her Israeli opponent, Linda Bolder.
Yolande is originally from Bukavu, the area most affected by the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yolande represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo in many international Judo competitions. In 2013, during the World Judo Championships in Rio, she sought asylum in Brazil. She currently trains at the Instituto Reação in Rio de Janeiro.
Anjaline Nadai Lohalith
Anjaline, 21 years old, will compete in the 1500-meter athletics category this Friday (August 12th). In 2002, she arrived in Kakuma, Kenya with her aunt to escape the violent conflict in South Sudan. Anjaline participated in a number of running competitions. Since 2015, she has trained at the Tegla Loroupe Foundation in Kenya.
Rose Nathike Lokonyen
Rose, aged 23 years old, will compete in the 800-meter athletics category this Friday. In 2002, Rose and her family arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to escape the South Sudan war. In 2008, Rose’s parents returned to South Sudan. Rose and her siblings remained at the refugee camp. She participated in many running competitions. Rose has trained at the Tegla Loroupe Foundation in Kenya since 2015.
“Their (members of the Refugee Olympic Team) participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families. UNHCR stands with them and with all refugees,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.