For the first time in history, a team made up entirely of refugees competed in the Olympic Games.
The team of 10, who between them fled conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, was made up of swimmers, Judo players, and short and long distance runners. Five of the athletes, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, Yiech Pur Biel, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, and James Nyang Chiengjiek, hailed from Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
While the refugees failed to medal at the Olympics, they received a hero’s welcome once they returned to Nairobi airport and the shantytown they call home. They were met with cheering crowds, a troupe of Burundian drummers, and family and friends. They stood in front of a huge banner that read: “You are gold medal winners in our eyes.”
During the Olympics, camp residents stayed up through the night cheering on the refugee athletes during massive daily screenings live-streamed to the camp’s 185,000 residents.
Among the returning Olympic refugees was 23-year-old Rose Nathike Lokonyen, who got to wave the Olympic flag for refugees during the opening ceremony. She told the UN Refugee Agency she was very happy she completed the women’s 800m race, competing against South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba. Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, 21, who ran in the 1,500m, told UNHCR she was initially nervous about competing in her event, but was happy to compete against the best athletes in the world.