The Ethiopian who has won many races in Europe has thus far been unable to prove himself at major competitions due to his lack of citizenship.
“It’s impossible for me to live there… it’s very dangerous for my life.” This is how marathon runner Yonas Kinde, who has been under international protection in Luxembourg since 2013, describes his native Ethiopia. After years in the wilderness, the 36-year-old will represent the first Olympic refugee team at the Rio 2016 Games in August.
“I will go to participate in the Olympic Games. I will be proud. I will be happy,” says Kinde, who still finds it difficult to talk about why he had to leave Ethiopia.
He has been living in Luxembourg for five years and under special protection for the last three years. “I left my country because of political problems. There are many difficulties, morally, economically, and it’s very difficult to be an athlete.”
Although his life has greatly improved since moving to Luxembourg, Kinde, who takes French lessons and drives a taxi in order to get by, admits that adjusting to life as a refugee has been a challenge.
“At the beginning I didn’t realise the refugee life was like this. It was difficult for the moment. The other side is we are free here. There are some problems with the refugee situation but I remember I have a big change from before and it’s very good.”
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But Kinde lights up when the subject turns to running. “I can’t explain the feeling, it has power, it’s amazing,” he says. Kinde started off running 10,000m and half marathons but eventually moved up to the full marathon.
During his relatively short running career in Europe, he has won several titles in Luxembourg, France and Germany, where he ran an impressive marathon last year in just two hours and 17 minutes. “If he were a Luxembourger he would qualify for the Luxembourg Olympic team,” his coach Yves Göldi says.
“I’ve won many races but I didn’t have a nationality to participate in the Olympic Games or the European championships,” Kinde said. “It’s very good news for refugee athletes that Olympic Solidarity have given us this chance to participate here.”
The Refugee Olympic Team was announced by International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this month as a response to the worldwide refugee crisis, which now stands at over 59 million displaced people.
Kinde will join a team of nine other athletes, from South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who will participate under the Olympic flag. They have received support from the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity fund which has provided them with equipment and paid for their coaching.
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IOC president Thomas Bach said: “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”
“I normally train everyday, but when I heard the news (about the refugee team) I started training twice a day, targeting the Olympic Games. It’s a big motivation.”
Kinde is confident ahead of his Olympic debut this August. “We have a target to do the best time, to compete with the best athletes and, why not, get a medal.”