Meet the Olympics' First Refugee Team

“I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life."

ByABC News
August 5, 2016, 9:22 AM

— -- Athletes marching in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio today will be joined by the first refugee team ever to compete in the Olympics. The 10 athletes on the refugee team will march immediately before participants from Brazil, the 2016 Olympics host country. The refugee athletes will not walk under the flag of their nations or march to the sound of their own national anthems –- instead the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic anthem will be played.

Here are the members of the refugee team:

Rami Anis from Syria

In 2011, Rami Anis, 25, fled his hometown Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which is now at the center of the nation's civil war. He left to avoid violence and kidnappings -- but also for the sake of his swimming career. At the time he had no idea that he wouldn’t return to Syria.“I thought that I would be back after two months, but unfortunately the war kept getting worse,” Anis, who now lives in Belgium, told ABC News.This summer in Rio, he will be part of the first refugee team to ever participate in the Olympics. He is hoping to break his 55-second-record for the 100 meter butterfly and swim it in 54 seconds.“I’m very proud. It’s the dream of any athlete to participate in the Olympics,” he said. “I will carry the IOC’s flag, but my soul and heart will be with my home, Syria.”His love for swimming came from his uncles who are Syrian swimming champions. Anis has been swimming since he was 7 years old and professionally since he was 14.

Rose Lokonyen from South Sudan

Rose Lokonyen used to run barefoot through the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. The 23-year old athlete has lived there since she was 10. She fled her country with her family to escape violence. Now, she will run the 800 meter in Rio. She will also be a flagbearer at the opening ceremony.

Yusra Mardini from Syria

About two years ago, Yusra Mardini was swimming to save her life. She was one of 20 refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a boat when the motor stopped. “It was quite hard to think that you are a swimmer and you might end up dying in the water,” Mardini, now 18, said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. In 2014, Mardini fled the Syrian war with her sister who was with her on the boat. Mardini dived into the water with her sister and one other passenger and pushed the boat to the shore. Everyone on board was saved. She lives in Berlin, where she trains at Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 and will be swimming the 100 meter freestyle and the 100 meter butterfly in Rio.

James Chiengjiek from South Sudan

James Chiengjiek was 11 when he lost his father, a soldier. Chiengjiek stayed in his hometown, Bentiu, and looked after the family's cattle. Two years later, at 13, he decided to flee his country to avoid the civil war and the risk of being recruited by rebels as a child soldier. “Even if you are 10 years old they can recruit you to join them,” he said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. Now, 15 years later, he will compete in the 400 meter run at the Rio Olympics.

Yiech Pur Biel from South Sudan

Conflict and fighting forced Yiech Pur Biel to flee his home in South Sudan in 2005. In a refugee camp in Kenya, he started playing football. He said he faced many challenges in the camp. “In the refugee camp, we have no facilities -- even shoes we don’t have. There is no gym. Even the weather does not favor training because from morning up to the evening it is so hot and sunny,” he told the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.He will be competing in the 800 meter run in Rio and said he can give other refugees hope as an Olympic athlete. “I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education, but also in running, you can change the world,” he told the UN refugee agency.

Paulo Lokoro from South Sudan

Paulo Lokoro used to take care of his family's cattle in South Sudan until the war forced him to flee with his uncle. “The war started so we ran away. We ran to the bush and stayed in the bush. There was no food, we just ate fruit,” Lokoro said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. Lokoro fled to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2006 where he rejoined his mother. The camp is home to 180,000 refugees, many of whom left South Sudan as children. In Rio, 24-year-old Lokoro will run the 1,500 meter event.

Yonas Kinde from Ethiopia

Runner Yonas Kinde has been under international protection in Luxembourg since 2013. He takes French lessons and drives a taxi to make a living and said getting used to his new life has been difficult.“At the beginning I didn’t realize the refugee life was like this. It was difficult for the moment. The other side is, we are free here. There are some problems with the refugee situation, but I remember I have a big change from before and it’s very good,” he said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. He will run the marathon in Rio.

Anjelina Lohalith from South Sudan

Anjelina Lohalith was just 6 years old when she fled the war in her home country of South Sudan. Lohalith, now 21, said she hopes that she can return to her country, reunite with her family and build a house for her father. “Since I came from there to here, I have never communicated with them,” she said of her parents, whom she hasn't seen since she was 6, according to an article on the Rio Olympics website. In Rio, she will compete in the 1,500 meter run.

Yolande Bukasa Mabika from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Yolande Bukasa Mabika doesn't remember much of the day from her childhood when she was separated from her parents. She mainly remembers running alone and being taken by helicopter to Kinshasa, the Congo's capital. There she lived at a center for displaced children where she took up judo. “Judo never gave me money, but it gave me a strong heart. I got separated from my family and used to cry a lot. I started judo to have a better life,” she said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. She now lives in Brazil where she will participate in the Olympics in the judo 70 kilogram category.

Popole Misenga from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Popole Misenga's mother is one of the millions of people who have been killed by decades of war in Congo. The war forced him to flee at age 9. He lived alone in the forest for eight days until he was rescued and taken to the country’s capital, Kinshasa. “When you are a child, you need to have a family to give you instructions about what to do, and I didn’t have one. Judo helped me by giving me calmness, discipline, direction -- everything,” he said in an article on the Rio Olympics website. He now lives in Brazil and will be competing in the Olympics in the 90 kilogram category for judo.

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