A team of 10 refugees athletes, set to march behind the white Olympic flag when the games open on Friday, have spoken about what they hope to achieve in Brazil.
From Yusra Mardini, a teenage swimmer from Syria who braved a Mediterranean crossing in a leaky dinghy, to Popole Misenga, who spent eight days hiding in a forest as a terrified child to flee bloody fighting, each of the refugee athletes have overcome daunting odds to maintain their Olympic dreams.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Mardini said the team had a mission to represent “the biggest flag – which is all countries.
“We’re going to represent you guys in a really good way,” she said.
Mardini, who has now settled in Germany with her family, says she will proudly represent Syria, the Olympic movement and her recently adopted homeland when she competes in Brazil.
“I hope you’re going to learn from our story: that you have to move on, because life will never stop for your problems,” she said at the press conference.
For Congelese Judoka Misenga, recalling the devastating toll that conflict has had on his family was too much.
The 24-year-old broke down in tears when he was asked to comment on what message he hoped to send through his Olympic participation.
Misenga was nine years old when he fled fighting in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Separated from his family, he hid in the jungle for eight days before being rescued and taken to a centre for displaced children in Kinshasa.
He later settled in Brazil, staying in the country after the 2013 World Championships.
“I have two brothers that I haven’t seen for years. I don’t remember their faces,” Misenga said tearfully on Saturday.
“I want to send them hugs and kisses. I’m here in Brazil participating so that one day I can bring them to live with me here in Brazil.”
Mardini is joined in the refugee ranks by another Syrian swimmer, Rami Anis.
Anis fled Syria in 2011 to avoid being enlisted into the army, relocating to Belgium from Istanbul in October last year.
“I’m very proud to be here,” Rami said. “But I feel a bit of sadness that I’m not participating as a Syrian. We are representing people who have lost their human rights and are facing injustices.”
Coach Geraldo Bernardes said the question of whether any of the refugee team could win a medal was immaterial.
“People ask if they can win a medal. I say they have already won their medals just by getting to Rio,” he said.
The International Olympic Committee announced the selection of 10 refugees last month, forming the first Refugee Olympic Athletes team.
The refugee team have no way of representing their countries, from which they were forced to flee.
This will mark the first time in history that an all-refugee team has competed at the Games. Refugee athletes who have participated in past Olympics have either done so as part of the delegations of their new countries, or under a special “independent” category.