Team Refugee: never give up

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04.08.2016 – 18 -year-old Yusra Mardini left Syria for Europe on a boat packed with refugees. With land in sight, the vessel began to sink and she and her sister had to swim the last part of the journey to Greece. After several months in Germany, she has qualified to swim at the Rio Olympics as part of Team Refugee, which was set up by the International Olympic Committee in recognition of the worldwide refugee crisis.

Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, over 200 national teams have vied for glory at the Summer and Winter Games. Now, for the first time, a team of refugees will compete as well.

At the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero, 10 refugee athletes from four countries will compete together as the Refugee Olympic Team. Among them are two swimmers, two judokas, a marathoner and five medium-distance runners.

Their athletic prowess and resilience is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees – at a time when the number of people displaced by violence and persecution is at the highest level since the Second World War.

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The Refugee Olympic Team takes to the stage with IOC President Thomas Bach to be introduced to all members of the International Olympic Committee. 
Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

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Team Refugee visit the Christ the Redeemer statue in Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Photo: IOC

The 10-member team, backed by UNHCR and the International Olympic Committee, was created to bring global attention to the magnitude of the global refugee crisis and act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide, deprived of the opportunity by conflict and persecution, of representing their countries or even often playing sport at all.

Most fled civil war in Sudan over 10 years ago. Apart from fleeing into exile, they have not travelled out of Kenya. They have lived and grown up in the remote Kakuma camp, where there are few modern facilities for youth, and running proved a welcome distraction from the hardship of daily life.

‘We have a message to tell the world: We have come as refugees, we have come as ambassadors for refugees, now we are here to show you that we can do everything other human beings can do, and also be part of a peace promotion around the world,” said Yiech Pur Biel, 21.

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James Nyang Chiengjiek packs his belongings before departure for Rio, where he will compete in the 800 metres.  Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has praised the young athletes. “Their 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,” he said in a recent statement.

Yusra Mardini is one of these ten young women and men who fled their countries in search of protection. Ten talented athletes who never gave up. Their participation in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees.