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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Refugee Team to Compete in Olympic Games

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This August, 10 athletes will compete in the Olympic games not as representatives of their countries of citizenship, but as refugees. For the first time in the history of the Olympics, there will be a "Refugee Team," composed of individuals from four countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Syria. The athletes will participate in a variety of sports, including swimming, track and field, and judo.
Refugee athletes are expected to do well in such sports as "Completing Endless Forms" (pictured) and "Waiting Forever In Line."

Here are the stories of a few of these inspiring Olympians:

James Nyang Chiengjiek
(age: 28; country of origin: South Sudan; sport: 400 meters) - James is from Bentiu, South Sudan. His father was a soldier who died in 1999 during the war. When he was a young boy he took care of cattle. He escaped from South Sudan when the war broke out, as he risked conscription into the army to participate in the war as a child soldier. James arrived in Kenya in 2002 and stayed in a UNHCR-supported refugee camp. He attended school and started running there. He was selected to train at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2013, and has been there ever since (four others on the Refugee Team also train at the TLPF).


Yusra Mardini
(age: 18; country of origin: Syria; sport: 100 meter freestyle) - Prior to the war in Syria, Yusra was a competitive swimmer who represented her country in international competitions. As the war intensified, Yusra and her sister left Damascus in early August 2015 and reached Berlin in September 2015. To get there, they had to cross the Aegean in a small boat. When the engine died, Yusra and a few others—the only swimmers on board—jumped into the water and pushed the boat for 3½ hours to shore. Since she reached Germany, Yusra has been training at the club Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 e.V. which is a partner of the Elite Schools of Sport in Berlin.


Yolande Bukasa Mabika
(age: 28; country of origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo; sport: Judo) - Yolande is originally from Bukavu, the area worst affected by the DRC civil war from 1998 to 2003. During the war, she was separated from her parents and taken to a children's home. There, she took up Judo, which the government encouraged as a way to give structure to the lives or orphans. As a professional Judoka, she represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo in international competitions. After years of difficult training conditions, she decided to seek asylum in Brazil during the World Judo Championships in Rio in 2013. She currently trains at the Instituto Reação in Rio de Janeiro.


Popole Misenga
(age 24; country of origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo; sport: Judo) - Like his Judoka teammate, Yolande Bukasa Mabika, Popole is originally from Bukavu in the DRC. His mother was murdered when he was only six years old. Afterward, he wandered in a rain forest for a week before he was rescued. As a professional Judoka, he represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo in international competitions. Along with Yolande, Popole sought asylum in Brazil during the World Judo Championships in 2013. He currently trains at the Instituto Reação in Rio de Janeiro.


Yonas Kinde
(age 36; country of origin: Ethiopia; sport: Marathon) - Yonas left Ethiopia due to political problems. He has been under international protection in Luxembourg since October 2013. He has competed in many marathons and reached the qualifying standards for Rio during the Frankfurt Marathon in October 2015. He currently trains at the national school of physical education and sports in Luxembourg.


Rose Nathike Lokonyen
(age 23; country of origin: South Sudan; sport: 800 meters) - After her community was burned by armed men, ten-year-old Rose and her family left South Sudan and arrived in Kakuma refugee camp in 2002. Her parents returned to South Sudan in 2008 but her siblings remained in Kakuma refugee camp. During her time at school, she participated in many barefoot running competitions and in 2015 she participated in a 10 km run in Kakuma organized by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. She has been training with the foundation ever since.


The Refugee Team is a part of a broader effort on the part of the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") to assist and bring attention to refugees. As IOC President Thomas Bach has said, the Refugee Team "will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society." It's an important role for these young athletes, and we certainly wish them the best at the Olympic Games and beyond.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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