Meet the Olympic Refugee Team: Part 3

By Elise Adams

Ten athletes from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo will go to Rio this summer to compete as the first ever Olympic Refugee Team. All of the athletes fled violence and persecution in their home countries and became refugees in places such as Kenya, Brazil, Germany and Belgium. The athletes, six men and four women, will march under the Olympic flag together this August in Rio de Janeiro. Here are some of their stories.

James Nyang Chiengjiek
Country of Origin: South Sudan


To escape the rebels kidnapping children and forcing them to become soldiers, James Nyang Chiengjiek left his home in Bentiu, South Sudan at the age of 13 and became a refugee in Kenya. He started school there in 2002 shortly after arriving. Chiengjiek began training with a group of older runners at his school when he discovered his talent. He remained at the refugee camp for 11 years until he competed in the trials to join the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. He was selected for the foundation and currently trains with four other runners on the refugee Olympic team.

Yonas Kinde
Country of Origin: Ethiopia


Yonas Kinde fled his home in Ethiopia in 2012 for Luxembourg, where he received international protection. The 36-year-old long distance runner has since competed in Luxembourg, France, and Germany, where he ran a marathon in two hours and 17 minutes last year. Kinde lives Luxembourg where takes French classes and drives a taxi. He trains every day for the Rio games this summer.

Popole Misenga
Country of Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo


Popole Misenga fled fighting from his home in Kisingani in the Democratic Republic of Congo at nine years old. Separated from his family, he spent eight days in the forest before he was rescued and taken to the capital, Kinsasha. Misenga lived in Kinsasha at a center for displaced children, where he discovered judo. Misenga began competing in judo, but when he would lose a match his coach would lock him in a cage for multiple days with only coffee and bread. It wasn’t until the 2013 world championships in Rio that Misenga decided to seek asylum after being knocked out in the first round and deprived of food. He gained refugee status in Brazil. Misenga hopes to win a medal in this summer’s Olympic Games to show other refugees that anything is possible.

Yolande Mabika
Country of Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo


Yolande Mabika was separated from her family due to war in the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was a young girl. She was running alone when she was picked up by a helicopter that took her to the center for displaced children in Kinshasa. There she discovered judo, but trained under an abusive coach who would cage her after losing tournaments and deprive her of food. At the 2013 World Judo Championship, her coach confiscated her passport as well as depriving her of food. Mabika left the competition and searched the streets for help. She is now a refugee in Brazil and earned a spot on the Olympic refugee team. She hopes to set an example for other refugees and to be reunited with her family.

Learn more about the Olympic Refugee Team from the United Nations refugee agency and the IOC.


Published on July 13, 2016


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