To support refugees and people facing crises around the world, the International Olympic Committee created the Refugee Olympic Team. Refugee athletes have been invited to compete in the Olympic Games since 2016. Here are two refugee athletes and their stories.
Yusra Mardini is a swimmer who grew up in the war-torn country of Syria. Due to the unstable political situation there, Yusra sometimes had to train in pools under roofs that had been blown open by bombings.
In 2015 when she was just a 17-year-old, her house was destroyed in the civil war, so she decided to flee her home country. She managed to reach Turkey through Lebanon. From Turkey, she boarded a small boat that held 20 people and set sail into the deep waters of the Aegean Sea. But 30 minutes later, the engine stopped and the boat began to sink. Yusra dove into the cold water, and—with the help of her sister and two men—swam and pushed the boat for over three hours to reach the Greek island of Lesbos. They saved everyone aboard.
Yusra eventually settled in Germany and has since worked to inspire others to pursue their dreams. Her incredible story and superior swimming skills won her the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games. She was a member of the Refugee Olympic Team for both the 2016 Rio Games and 2021 Tokyo Games.
Popole Misenga was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When he was nine, the country’s civil war claimed the life of his mother and left him homeless. Escaping from the war zone, he wandered alone for a week in a rainforest before being rescued and taken to a center for displaced children in the capital, Kinshasa.
There, Popole discovered judo, from which he gained strength in body and mind. “Judo helped me by giving me serenity, discipline, commitment—everything,” he said. He trained hard and became a professional judoka. However, each time he lost a competition, his coaches would lock him in a cage for days, feeding him only coffee and bread. Finally, when he was cruelly abused for not winning medals at the 2013 World Championships in Brazil, he decided to seek protection.