In the world today, there are about 82.4 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. If these people could form their own country, it would be the 20th most populous nation on Earth (about the same size as Germany). Confronted with this problem, the International Olympic Committee created a Refugee Team, which first competed in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. The current Games is the second summer Olympics for the Refugee Team, which consists of 29 athletes, representing 11 countries.

Each of these athletes has overcome tremendous odds. Many have suffered severe trauma. Despite these obstacles, they have excelled in their respective sports and have reached the Olympics. You can learn more about all 29 of these amazing athletes at the IOC website, and below, I've selected a few of their biographies to give you a sense of the team.

Kimia Alizadeh: Originally from Iran, Ms. Alizadeh is a Tae Kwon Do athlete who represented her country in the 2016 Olympics. She took home a bronze medal in that contest (the first Olympic medal for a female athlete from Iran), and has won or medaled in numerous other international competitions. In January 2020, she defected from Iran, calling herself "one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who [Iran's rulers] have been playing with for years." She added that, she "didn't want to sit at the table of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery" any longer, nor remain complicit with the Iranian regime's "corruption and lies." She currently lives in Germany. Ms. Alizadeh says that she hopes to continue to fight for equality, so that all woman have the ability to follow their dreams.

Popole Misenga: Mr. Misenga competed in Judo for the Refugee Team in 2016 in Rio, and he is back again for the 2021 Games. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Misenga fled home at age nine after his mother was killed. He wandered in the bush for a week before being rescued and brought to the capital city of Kinshasa. There, he took up Judo. After having some success in international competition, he attended the World Judo Championship in Brazil in 2013. After the competition, he defected and has been living in Brazil ever since. Of his experience on the Refugee Team, Mr. Misenga has stated, "It meant a lot for me, to be able to represent all the refugees in the world on the international sports platform. It gives me strength... representing the millions of persons who had to leave their home and country."

Rose Lokonyen: Ms. Lokonyen is a runner from South Sudan. When she was ten, she fled from soldiers with her family, and eventually reached a refugee camp in Kenya. "If my parents had not brought us here to Kenya," she says, "we could have died." When the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation was recruiting for the 2016 Refugee Team, they held tryouts at Ms. Lokonyen's refugee camp. Running barefoot, she placed first in the 5,000 meter race and made the team. In Rio, she was the team's flag bearer. Ms. Lokonyen states, "My dream, my first priority, is to help my parents and my siblings and then after that to help my fellow refugees.” After the Games, Ms. Lokonyen and two others from Kakuma refugee camp will move to Canada to attend Sheridan College on an athletic scholarship funded by the United Nations, Sheridan College, World University Service Canada, and the IOC.

Yusra Mardini: Ms. Mardini is a swimmer from Syria who competed with the Refugee Team in 2016. Her home in Syria was destroyed and she fled with her sister. The pair crossed the Aegean in an overcrowded boat, and when the engine died, Ms. Mardini jumped into the water and helped push the boat towards shore. Eventually, the engine was re-started and Ms. Mardini made her way to Germany, where she continued her training. In Tokyo, she will compete in the 100 meter butterfly. In 2018, she published a book about her experience, Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian - My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph.

Cyrille Tchatchet: Mr. Tchatchete is a weight lifter from Cameroon who fled from an international competition and found himself homeless in the UK. Contemplating suicide and suffering from depression, Mr. Tchatchete found help from a charitable organization and later--after becoming the British national champion in his weight class--he received an IOC scholarship. He received refugee status in the UK, and began studying to become a mental health nurse, in order to help rehabilitate others who experienced similar trauma to himself. Mr. Tchatchete graduated with a first class degree and hopes to pursue a Master's degree alongside his weight training.

Masomah Ali Zada: Ms. Ali Zada is a cyclist from Afghanistan who received asylum in France. She and her sister were members of Afghanistan's first national women's cycling team. They faced many challenges in their home country. They were threatened, insulted and had stones thrown at them. "In Afghanistan, men think it's unsuitable for a woman to ride a bike, and the Taliban have banned us from sport," Ms. Ali Zada said. "I have never given up on the bike, but I want to encourage girls to do it, and women's cycling is becoming commonplace in Afghanistan." "On a bike," she said, "you have the feeling of freedom, that nobody tells you that you can't do this or that because you are a woman." "I never thought that I would make it all the way to the Olympics but I kept cycling... and now I have done it."

It is inspiring to see people who have dealt with such adversity rise to the highest level of athletic achievement. It is another reminder of the contributions refugees make to sports and to their host societies. I wish all these extraordinary athletes great success during the Tokyo Olympics!

Originally posted on the Asylumist: