Coming from the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria - they have all escaped war, famine, and human rights abuse and found safe haven in foreign lands. They are refugees.
They are also athletes of the Olympian caliber: runners, swimmers and judokas. Without a nation to represent, they will compete this year under the international Olympic flag – as citizens of the world. They are the first ever Refugee Olympic Team.
Learn more about the team and their individual stories below.
WATCH: Meet the Refugee Olympic Team
WATCH: Refugee judokas Popole Misenga & Yolande Mabike
When Popole Misenga was 9 years old, he fled fighting in Kisingani. Following eight days in the forest, he was rescued and taken to the capital, Kinshasa, where he learned judo at a center for displaced children. He said judo gave him an outlet and taught him discipline and commitment. Misenga began competing, but whenever he lost, his coach would lock him in a cage for days with little to eat or drink. Misenga was taken to the 2013 world championships in Rio de Janeiro, where he was again deprived of food and lost in the first round.
Misenga ran off from the team hotel and sought asylum in Brazil, where he gained refugee status. Popole trained at a judo school founded by Brazilian Olympic bronze medalist Flavio Canto. “For me, this is incredible because a refugee has never participated in the Olympics before," Misenga says. “The whole world will be watching."
Yolande Mabika was orphaned by war at a really young age. She hasn’t seen her family in 18 years. A helicopter picked her up and took her to the capital, Kinshasa, where she lived in a center for displaced children. She discovered judo and began competing in major tournaments. Just like her compatriot Misenga, Mabika also suffered at the hands of an abusive coach. When she’d lose a match, Mabika would also get caged. In 2013, Mabika traveled to Brazil for World Judo Championship. She decided to escape her hotel room when her coach confiscated her passport.
Mabika gained refugee status in Brazil and attended Flavio Canto’s Judo School. “I am a competitive athlete, and this is an opportunity that can change my life,” said the judo fighter. “I hope my story will be an example for everybody, and perhaps my family will see me and we will reunite.”
WATCH: Refugee marathon runner Yonas Kinde
Marathon runner Yonas Kinde drives a taxi in Luxembourg to make ends meet when he’s not competing. He’s also taking French lessons to help him settle in his new home. He’s been living in Luxembourg under international protection since being forced to leave his home country of Ethiopia, where his life was in danger. He qualified for the Rio Olympics with an impressive run and a personal best of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 31 seconds at the Frankfurt Marathon last year.
“I can’t explain to you the feeling,” he says of being able to compete at the Olympics. “It’s like power. It’s amazing. When I heard this news I had big motivation. I got energy.”
In 2005, When Yiech Pur Biel was a 9-year-old boy, his mother left him with a neighbor as she went in search of food. Yiech’s father was a soldier and away fighting. His mother never returned and he hasn’t seen either of his parents since. The neighbor decided Yiech should go to a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya - home to nearly 200,000 refugees. At the camp, Yiech entered a 10-kilometer race run by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. He finished second and was selected to go to the foundation’s training center. Pur will join four other refugees from the Loroupe center at the Olympics and will run in the 800 meters, sharing a stage with Kenya’s Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha.
“When we go to Rio we are going to give a message that a refugee can do anything any other human being can do,” Yiech told The Associated Press.
At age 13, as James Nyang Chiengjiek was herding cattle, soldiers attempted to kidnap him and force him to be a child soldier. He ran away from his home village - eventually making his way to the refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. At Kakuma, he continued running, but as a sport to keep his body and mind agile and fit. He was at the camp for over ten years before he was discovered by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation and began running competitively in their program. In Rio, Chiengjiek will join four other team members from Kakuma as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team.
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, 21, hasn’t seen or spoken to her parents since she left southern Sudan more than a decade ago. Her home was repeatedly attacked by a rival tribe, forcing her and her family to sleep in the bush to avoid the nighttime raids. One day they returned to find land mines had been laid all around their homes. After that, her parents organized for her to get to Kenya, where she eventually ended up in the Kakuma camp - home to over 200,000 refugees. She began running as a teenager and was eventually discovered by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, where she began running competitively. Lohalith and four of her teammates from the Kakuma camp will be competing in Rio as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team. Her event is the 1,500 meters.
During an attack on her village, as she was trying to find somewhere safe to hide, Rose Nathike Lokonyen came across the dead bodies of her grandparents. She was seven years old. Orphaned, she somehow made way to the Kakuma refugee camp in across the border in Kenya. There, she attended the Angelina Jolie Primary School, a school funded by the Hollywood star, and began running for fun. Lokonyen excelled at the camp trials and was asked to join the the Tegra Loroupe Foundation's competitive running program. This summer, Lokonyen and four of her other teammates from the Kakuma camp will join the the Refugee Olympic Team competing in Rio. Lokonyen will run in the 800 meters competition.
Paulo Amotun Lokoro’s memories of his childhood are of him running for his life with bullets whizzing past his head during attacks on his village. In 2006, as a teenager, he left Sudan and eventually made his way to the Kakuma camp in Kenya - home to over 200,000 refugees. Amotun’s first sport was soccer, but his talent for running emerged when he was chosen by the Tegra Loroupe Foundation to join 40 other hopefuls from Kakuma to attend track trials at the national stadium in Nairobi. He placed well, and remained with the Loroupe group. This summer, Lokoro will be joining four of his teammates from the Kakuma camp as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team competing in Rio. He will be running the 1,500 meters.
The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya
All of the Sudanese athletes competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics came from the Kakuma camp in Kenya - home to over 200,000 refugees. Most of them arrived at the camp as orphaned children.
Learn more about Kakuma in this short video produced by the UN High Council on Refugees.
WATCH: Syrian refugee swimmer Rami Anis
Rami Anis grew up in Aleppo. He started competitive swimming at the age of 14 and his ranking had him as a favorite for the 2012 London Olympics. But civil war began in 2011, and Aleppo was one of the hardest hit by bombings. That year, his family sent Amis to Istanbul to live with a brother. He continued training, but, because of his refugee status, could not compete internationally. So last year, Amis and his brother crossed the Aegean Sea with 40 other refugees on a rubber boat heading to the Greek island of Samos. En route, they nearly capsized by rough waves, but luckily the boat made it to Samos. From there, they set off on a 2,000-mile journey through the Balkans, Germany and eventually ended up in Belgium, where he now lives. Anis found a coach in former Olympic swimmer Carine Verbauwen and trained at her club near Brussels.
"I wish from my heart that there will be no more refugees and we can go back and participate for our country," Anis says.
WATCH: Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini
Eighteen-year-old Yusra and older sister, Sarah, were among Syria’s most promising swimmers before civil war interrupted everything. As the war ramped up, their family decided the sisters should leave Damascus. They made their way to Lebanon, then Turkey. A year ago, the sisters were on a flimsy inflatable dinghy off the Turkish coast with 20 other refugees when the boat began taking on water and sinking. The two sisters slipped into the water and helped guide the boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and safety. From there, they journeyed through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and finally to Germany where they sought refugee status and asylum. Since then, Yusra has been training at a club in Berlin with coach Sven Spannekrebs.
"I want to represent all the refugees," she says, "because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days. I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives."
Sources for this page include The Associated Press, The Telegraph and the IOC