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Refugee Olympic Team Receives Warm Embrace at Rio Opening Ceremony

The first team of its kind has 10 members

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Buda Mendes/Getty Images

They've been called by some the heart and soul of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The first-ever Refugee Olympic Team of 10 athletes, displaced from Syria, South Sudan, Congo and Ethiopia, entered the arena to loud applause just before the host Brazilian contingent. Their flag-bearer, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, fled war in South Sudan and ran her first race in a refugee camp in northern Kenya.

It was a race she ran barefoot. Lokonyen only began running with shoes for the first time a year ago. 

“My dream, my first priority, is to help my parents and my siblings and then after that to help my fellow refugees,” Lokonyen told Rio2016.com.

The 10 refugee athletes hope to act not only as a symbol of hope worldwide but more importantly bring needed global attention to the plight and magnitude of the refugee crisis.

The athletes will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) – the first of its kind. The athletes were named to the ROT by the Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Rami Anis (M): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Belgium; sport – swimming

Yiech Pur Biel (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

James Nyang Chiengjiek (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 400m

Yonas Kinde (M): Country of origin – Ethiopia; host NOC – Luxembourg; sport – athletics, marathon

Anjelina Nada Lohalith (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

Rose Nathike Lokonyen (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

Paulo Amotun Lokoro (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

Yolande Bukasa Mabika (F): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -70kg

Yusra Mardini (F): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming

Popole Misenga (M): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -90kg

“This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” IOC president Thomas Bach said when the team was announced on June 3.

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