The whole world is watching the Olympics and it has been a spectacle of sorts to see each country enter the opening ceremony with great pomp and show. Waving flags, dancing and flashing smiles as their chests puff up with pride for being part of the biggest sporting extravaganza on earth. For one of the teams though it has been a long walk to this stage. The refugee Olympic Team has been the apple of the eye for those who know about the struggles these team members have gone through in real time.
The refugee olympic team is a ten member group participating in the Olympics who have fought all odds to be part of this event. They bear no flag, represent no team and have no national anthem to call their own, but it is that one undying wish to prove their mettle which has kept them going.
Globally as the world faces a crisis of mammoth proportions when it comes to refugees, this team is a symbol of hope and persistence. By representing 19 million refugees and asylum seekers displaced globally, the team is an inspiration.
It was in March that the International Olympic Committee came up with a plan to create a £1.5million training fund shortlisting 43 candidates and giving them money to train. Ten from among them made the cut for Rio and are now part of Olympics.
The final team includes 10 athletes competing in three sports.
They have been offered a home in the heart of the Olympic village amongst some famous athletes from across the globe with access to training.
Five refugees are from South Sudan, two fled Syria, two left Congo and one is from Ethiopia.
A widely reported story from Rio has been that of Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini.
Like thousands, Mardini was fleeing her nation heading across the Mediterranean. In a crammed dinghy, the motor stopped and threatened to capsize.
Yusra knew how to swim. She leaped into sea and swam for three long miles dragging 20 refugees to safety.
Yusra has now won her opening heat of the 100m butterfly.
Many like Popole Misenga have still not forgotten the day when his mother was murdered in front of his eyes at the tender age of six.
The displaced athletes have come from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
The team will compete in athletics, judo and swimming, which represent the basic tenets of survival.
During the opening ceremony, Rose Lokonyen was the ROT flag-bearer. Interestingly, at 10 years old, she and her family were forced to leave their home and run from the war-weary region of South Sudan to Kenya.
For those like Congolese judoka Yolande Mabika it has been a fight through and through. And no one knows the idea of the survival of the fittest better than her. Others like Paul Lokoro, one of the six South Sudanese refugees will perhaps finally realize the dream of meeting the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt.
For the refugees battling it out everyday, the very sight of those of their ilk competing amongst legends is a feat much more important than a medal win.
The global crisis for refugees has reached a stage where the United Nations estimates, at the end of last year, a record 65.3 million people were displaced from their native countries by fear of “persecution, conflict, generalized violence or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order.”
In four years after the 2012 Olympics the number of refugees has increased by nearly three-quarters —because of new and worsening crises and because, more than ever, longtime refugees are unable to go home.
Reports say the world’s richest countries are resigned to inaction at best, and closing their doors at worst.
Experts believe more refugees means more need for international aid and protection.
They say 86 percent of refugees are housed in the developing world. But just as the refugee population has risen, wealthy countries in Europe, the US, and Australia have gotten bogged down in contentious political debates over opening their doors.
5,350 people died trying to make crossings in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Between 1996 and 2005, 12.9 million refugees returned to their home countries. But between 2006 and 2015, only 4.2 million did.
Even as the world keeps an eye on how this team of refugees performs in this Olympics at Rio, it is needless to say that these band of fighters are already winners. One can only hope that after the sporting fiesta these people will live a better and more respectful life and time will be a healer for them.