NAIROBI, JULY 29, 2016 (CISA) Five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, until recently living in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, left Nairobi on July 28 to take part in first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in Rio Brazil.
According to the UNHCR, the five — two women and three men — will join five others from Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. “I feel very excited.
This is the first chance for the refugees to participate in the Olympics and to give us hope, for us to encourage the young generations of fellow refugees who are remaining in the camps maybe to continue their talent,” Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, told UNHCR in an interview prior to departure.
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. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi while praising the young athletes said: “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 past statement.
“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.
Yiech was 11 years old when he arrived at the camp without his immediate family, who fled in another direction to Ethiopia and whom he has not seen since.
“It gives me hope to continue to train and to work hard and then to be a champion one day, and one time to represent my country, because I will not be a refugee forever and I know that,” he added.
Olympian and former marathon world record-holder Tegla Loroupe of Kenya was named the team’s Chef de Mission, while Isabela Mazão of Brazil, who was proposed by the UNHCR, will act as the Deputy Chef de Mission. They will lead a crew of five coaches and five other team officials.
Most fled civil war in Sudan over 10 years ago and have since 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.