The Refugee Olympic Team was met with resounding support as the games opened in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
The team is composed of ten athletes from around the world who have been displaced from their home countries.
“You had to flee your homes… now with your human spirit you are making a great contribution to society,” the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) president Thomas Bach said during live commentary of the parade of nations, as the crowd gathered at Maracanã Stadium for the opening ceremony stood for a rapturous applause.
“We welcome you as an enrichment of our unity in diversity,” he added.
It was the first time an Olympic athletic team was composed of refugees, an effort by the IOC to shine a light on the plight of refugees all over the world.
During the ceremony, US president Barack Obama tweeted his support for the Refugee Olympic Team. “Tonight, the first-ever #TeamRefugees will also stand before the world and prove that you can succeed no matter where you’re from,” he wrote.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees praised the IOC for “speaking of diversity, environment and peace”.
Ahead of the ceremony, the Pope wrote to the athletes to offer his support. In the letter, translated from the original Spanish by Vatican Radio, the Pontiff said that their “courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity”.
The athletes come from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The opening ceremony was broadcast in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, which some of the athletes currently call home.
23-year-old runner Rose Nathike Lokonyen, has lived at Kakuma since she fled South Sudan at the age of eight.
She told the UN refugee agency UNHCR that she was “very excited” to take part in this year’s games.
“This is the first chance for the refugees to participate in the Olympics and to give us hope, for us to encourage the young generations of fellow refugees who are remaining in the camps maybe to continue their talent,” Nathike Lokonyen said.
People watching the ceremony also congratulated the Refugee Olympic Team, and the IOC’s decision to have them take part in this year’s games.
Shortly after the opening ceremony, the official Twitter account for the refugee team thanked people for “all your support tonight”, adding a heart emoji and the hashtag, “#hope”.
These are the athletes competing in the Refugee Olympic Team:
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.