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2016 Olympics Spotlight: IOC Refugee Team

These athletes may be from different countries, but they all have a common goal.

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Popole Misenga & Yolande Mabika - Olympic Refugee Team

Although the Olympics are sometimes marred by doping allegations and other controversies, expect those issues to fade away during the Opening Ceremony when a small group of displaced athletes march into the Maracana Stadium behind the white Olympic flag.

The International Olympic Committee announced in March that it would be forming a group of an estimated five to 10 athletes from among a group of 43 previously identified refugees. Together, the athletes will compete as “Team Refugee Olympic Athletes” (ROA) and send a “message of hope” to refugees around the world, officials said.

The IOC made it official in June, naming 10 refugees who will compete in the Olympics as members of the ROA team. They originated from Syria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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“All fled violence and persecution in their countries and sought refuge in places as wide-ranging as Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Kenya and Brazil,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement.

The athletes include 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, who escaped Syria last year and risked drowning when she squeezed onto a packed inflatable boat in Turkey that was headed to the Greek island of Lesbos. When the boat’s motor stopped, Mardini and her sister—the only two among a group of 20 who knew how to swim—pulled the boat for hours across the Aegean Sea so that everyone could safely arrive on dry land. Mardini’s swimming prowess was noticed in her new home of Berlin and she has been receiving training there ever since.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement while revealing the team. “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.”

Another athlete for the team is Congolese judoka Popole Misenga. Misenga has been living in Brazil since 2013, when he declared asylum during the World Judo Championships in Rio. Misenga says he had to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo after being exposed to years of bloodshed, including the death of his mother and the disappearance of his brother.

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“I represent everyone,” he told The Guardian. “I’ll get a medal for all refugees.”

* Rami Anis (M): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Belgium; sport – swimming

* Yiech Pur Biel (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

* James Nyang Chiengjiek (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 400m

* Yonas Kinde (M): Country of origin – Ethiopia; host NOC – Luxembourg; sport – athletics, marathon

* Anjelina Nada Lohalith (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

* Rose Nathike Lokonyen (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

* Paulo Amotun Lokoro (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

* Yolande Bukasa Mabika (F): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -70kg

* Yusra Mardini (F): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming

* Popole Misenga (M): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -90kg

Learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Olympics begin August 5.

Image above shows Popole Misenga & Yolande Mabika of the Team Refugee Olympic Athletes.

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