olympics 1

Rio is the first Olympic Games to be held in South America and marching into the Maracana stadium just before hosts Brazil at the opening ceremony will be another Olympic first – a team of ten athletes picked by the IOC to compete as a symbol of hope for fellow refugees across the globe. Azimo tells the stories behind these stateless stars.

1. Rami Anis

‘Swimming is my life. The swimming pool is my home.’
Born in: Syria
Fled to: Belgium
Sport: Swimming (100m butterfly)

“Swimming is my life – the swimming pool is my home.” – Rami, a member of #TeamRefugees, training at a pool in Belgium. Rami is from Syria, where thanks to his Uncle Majad, a competitive swimmer, he developed a passion for the water. As bombings and kidnappings in Aleppo grew more frequent, Rami's family put him on a flight to Istanbul to live with an older brother who was studying Turkish. “The bag I took had two jackets, two t-shirts, two trousers – it was a small bag,” Rami recalls. “I thought I would be in Turkey for a couple of months and then return to my country.” As months turned to years, he used the time to hone his swimming technique at the prestigious Galatasaray Sports Club. But without Turkish nationality, he was unable to swim in competitions. “It’s like someone who is studying, studying, studying and can’t take the exam.” Determined to prove himself, Rami travelled to Greece in an inflatable dinghy, landing on the island of Samos. Eventually he reached the Belgian town of Ghent, where he’s been training nine times a week with former Olympic swimmer Carine Verbauwen. “With the energy I have, I am sure I can achieve the best results,” he says. “It will be a great feeling to be part of the Olympics.” ……………………………………………………………………………… UNHCR/Gordon Welters #OlympicGames #olympics #olympic #Rio2016 #riodejaneiro #refugeeolympicteam #WithRefugees #Rami #RoadtoRio #swimming #swimmer #loveswimming #RamiAnis

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25-year-old Rami had already represented Syria at swimming when the civil war broke out. Fearing that he’d be called up to join the army, his family put him on a plane to Istanbul to stay with his brother. There, he began training at the prestigious Galatasaray Sports Club before moving to Ghent in Belgium. He now trains with former Olympic swimmer Carine Verbauwen.

2. Yiech Pur Biel

‘I can show my fellow refugees that they have a chance in life.’
Born in: South Sudan
Fled to: Kenya
Sport: Athletics (800m)


Just over a decade ago, Yiech Pur Biel was forced to flee South Sudan to escape the civil war raging there. After spending ten years in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, which is home to some 180,000 people, he took part in a trial for the Tegla Loroupe Foundation and is now coached by long-distance runner and Goodwill Ambassador Loroupe in the capital, Nairobi.

3. James Nyang Chiengjiek

‘If you have two pairs of shoes, then you help the one that has none.’
Born in: South Sudan
Fled to: Kenya
Sport: Athletics (400m)


Chiengjiek left South Sudan for Kenya when he was just 13 years old. Scared that he’d be forced to become a child soldier and having already lost his father during the civil war, he managed to escape and headed for the Kakuma refugee camp, where he was supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He now trains at the Tegla Loroupe Foundation in Nairobi.

4. Yonas Kinde

‘I will go to the Olympic Games. I will be proud. I will be happy.’
Born in: Ethiopia
Fled to: Luxembourg
Sport: Athletics (Marathon)


Marathon runner Kinde says that he feared for his life in his native Ethiopia and has been living under international protection in Luxembourg since 2013. Now 36 years old, he has won several titles since moving to Europe but drives a taxi to help make ends meet. According to his coach, if he were a Luxembourger, he’d be fast enough to qualify for the national team.

5. Anjelina Nadai Lohalith

‘My dream is to help my parents build a better house.’
Born in: South Sudan
Fled to: Kenya
Sport: Athletics (1,500m)

That moment when you hold a piece of paper that could open doors beyond your wildest dreams… Anjelina reads through an administrative form that will enable her to get a travel document to go to Brazil, to compete in the Olympic Games as part of Team Refugees. The 21-year-old is a refugee from South Sudan, who has overcome massive hardship to be selected for the Refugee Olympic Team. She will be running the 1,500m race at #Rio2016 and we suspect the entire stadium will be cheering her on! Go Anjelina! UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau #TeamRefugees #OlympicGames #olympics #olympic #Rio2016 #riodejaneiro #refugeeolympicteam #WithRefugees #Anjelina #RoadtoRio #AnjelinaOlympics # paper #traveldocument #lifechangingmoment #instainsparation

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Anjelina first arrived at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp in 2002 with her aunt, after escaping the war in South Sudan. She was just six at the time and she hasn’t seen her parents since. At the camp, she was encouraged to start running by a teacher and is now part of the Tegla Loroupe Foundation in Nairobi. She hopes that one day her success as a runner will allow her to be reunited with her family again.

6. Rose Nathike Lokonyen

‘If my parents hadn’t brought us to Kenya we could have died.’
Born in: South Sudan
Fled to: Kenya
Sport: Athletics (800m)

Until a year ago, Rose barely knew the talent she had. She fled war in South Sudan when she was 10, and had never competed as a runner. That all changed when her teacher suggested she run a 10km race in a school competition in the refugee camp in northern Kenya where she lives. "I had not been training. It was the first time for me to run, and I came second. I was very surprised", she says, with a shy smile. A lot has happened since then – now Rose in on her way to Rio as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team! "I will be very happy and I will just work hard and prove myself,” she told us. Rose sees athletics not only as an avenue to earning prize money and endorsements, but also as a way to inspire others. “I will be representing my people there at Rio, and maybe if I succeed I can come back and conduct a race that can promote peace, and bring people together.” …………………………………………………………………… UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau #TeamRefugees #OlympicGames #olympics #olympic #Rio2016 #riodejaneiro #refugeeolympicteam #WithRefugees #Rose #RoadtoRio #running #olympicrose #track #800metres #racing #runner #runforlife #runninggirl #instarunners #instarunner #loverunning #runtoinspire

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Rose fled the violence in South Sudan at the age of ten. She’s now 23, but she’d never competed in a race until a year ago, even as an amateur. But a teacher at the north Kenyan refugee camp where she lives talked her into entering a 10km race. Despite running barefoot, she ended up coming second overall and now the fairy story will continue in Rio.

7. Paulo Amotun Lokoro

‘Before I came here I didn’t even have shoes.’
Born in: South Sudan
Fled to: Kenya
Sport: Athletics (1,500m)

“I am so happy. I know I am racing on behalf of refugees. I was one of those refugees in the camp, and now I have reached somewhere special. I will meet so many people. My people will see me on television, on Facebook.” Just a few short years ago, Paulo Amotun Lokoro was a young herder guarding his family’s cattle on the plains of what is now South Sudan. He says that he knew nothing of the world except his own homeland, which had been at war for almost all his life. The conflict eventually forced him to flee to neighbouring Kenya. “Before I came here, I did not even have training shoes.” Living in a refugee camp, Paulo excelled in sports, and ultimately gained a spot on the refugee squad that has been training near Nairobi under the guidance of Tegla Loroupe, the renowned Kenyan runner who holds several world records. This experience has helped him develop new, grand ambitions. “I want to be world champion.” These motivations and all of his efforts have paid off: Paulo is going to Rio as part of #TeamRefugees. It was a special moment for him to fill out the travel documents that will allow him to go to Rio2016 and compete in Olympic Games. Still, his aim remains simple: “If I perform well, I will use that to help support my family, and my people.” Go Paulo and go #TeamRefugees! #Rio2016 #Olympics

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Paulo used to watch over his family’s small herd of cattle as a teenager in South Sudan, but the civil war changed everything and he was forced to flee to the safety of Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. Nowadays he trains at the Tegla Loroupe Foundation and has plenty of self-belief: ‘To win a gold, that is my dream.’ Wishful thinking, perhaps, but he’ll have the world behind him.

8. Yolande Bukasa Mabika

‘Judo never gave me money, but it gave me a strong heart.’
Born in: Democratic Republic of Congo
Fled to: Brazil
Sport: Judo (70kg)

Yolande was a young child when she lost her parents, separated by fighting in her home, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All she remembers is being picked up by a helicopter, which took her to the capital city Kinshasa. There, living in a centre for displaced children, she discovered judo. “I got separated from my family and used to cry a lot. I started with judo to have a better life", Yolande told us. She became a professional athlete, competing in major tournaments. But in 2013, when she came to Rio to compete in the World Judo Championship, her coach confiscated her passport and limited her access to food – as he did at every competition abroad. Fed up with years of abuse, including being caged after losing tournaments, Yolande fled the hotel and wandered the streets searching for help. Now, Yolande's life has been transformed, after she won a place on the Refugee Olympic Team, and even a new trainer, in the form of Flavio Canto, a Brazilian Olympic bronze medallist. She is determined to excel, to give refugees hope, and to transform her tragic life story into a happy one. “I will be part of this team and I will win a medal. I am a competitive athlete, and this is an opportunity that can change my life,” she says. “I hope my story will be an example for everybody, and perhaps my family will see me and we will reunite.” ……………………………………………………………………… UNHCR/Kim Badawi #TeamRefugees #OlympicGames #olympics #olympic #Rio2016 #riodejaneiro #refugeeolympicteam #WithRefugees #Yolande #RoadtoRio #judoka #judo #judolife #judokas #YolandeOlympics

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Originally from Bukavu, an area of the DRC torn apart by civil war, Yolande left her small town in 1998 for the capital, Kinshasa, to escape the worst of the fighting. It was here that she first discovered her passion for judo. She represented the DRC for years, enduring shocking living and training conditions, before seeking asylum in Brazil in 2013. She now trains in Rio.

9. Yusra Mardini

‘I want to show it’s hard to arrive at your dreams, but not impossible.’
Born in: Syria
Fled to: Germany
Sport: Swimming (200m freestyle)


When Yusra escaped from Damascus, she travelled via Beirut, Istanbul and finally Izmir, in Turkey, where she caught a boat with her sister to the Greek island of Lesbos. But the dinghy she was in threatened to capsize and she jumped overboard and helped to tow the boat safely to shore. A year on and Yusra will once again swim for her life – this time at the Rio Olympics.

10. Popole Misenga

‘Judo helped by giving me calmness, discipline, direction – everything.’
Born in: Democratic Republic of Congo
Fled to: Brazil
Sport: Judo (90kg)


Popole was just nine when he fled the fighting in his home town of Kinsingani. After eight days in the forest, he was rescued and taken to the capital, Kinshasa. There he trained to become a judoka, but failure was treated harshly: he was locked in a cage with just coffee and bread if he lost a competition. The abuse led him to seek asylum during the 2013 World Championships in Rio, where he now lives and trains.

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