Newsha Tavakolian • Refugee Runners • Magnum Photos

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Sport

Refugee Runners

Newsha Tavakolian photographs the home of the Sudanese refugees in training for the Rio 2016 Olympics

Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

Amongst the prolonged limbo that the people living in refugee camps exist in, Magnum’s Newsha Tavakolian documents a positive story of hope. The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which was first intended as a temporary shelter for Sudanese refugees fleeing civil war, has become a long-term home to thousands. Conditions are desperate and resources are scarce but, despite this, five of these Sudanese residents are competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics in a 10-strong refugee team, which also includes refugee athletes from Syria via Germany and Belgium, The Congo via Brazil, and Ethiopia via Luxembourg.

 

Newsha Tavakolian Young boys doing exercise sessions inside the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Some of the boys exercise without shoes because they can’t afford them. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

"Pur, our friend and I have only one pair of shoes and two school uniforms between us"

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Newsha Tavakolian A view of the Kakuma camp where more 40,000 people live. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

Training at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes near Nairobi, the Sudanese refugee runners taking part in the Rio Olympics are James Chiengjiek (400m), Yiech Biel (800m), Paulo Lokoro (1500m), Rose Lokonyen (800m), and Anjelina Lohalith (1500m). Many of the Sudanese athletes in the Refugee Olympic team hadn’t run in training shoes until this year. Despite placing last in his first-round heat for the 400m race on Saturday, August 13, James Chiengjiek said, “Every one of us is using their time well here, representing peace for the sake of their countries.”

While shooting the runners and their former camp home, Newsha Tavakolian spoke to a friend of athlete Yiech Pur Biel, who told her, “Here we have nothing. Pur, our friend and I have only one pair of shoes and two school uniforms between us. This is all we have. Life here is very difficult for us. We have been here now for 11 years without having known what happened to our parents and our youngest brother.”

Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

"It's inspiring to see these athletes make do with what they have "

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Newsha Tavakolian Kakuma refugee camp. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian The view where the 400m runner James Nyang lived since 2012. Here, his niece is washing the dirty clothes of the family members. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

“This wasn’t the easiest assignment, but very interesting,” Newsha Tavakolian says. “It really touched me to see how they and their families are living in very poor conditions. They lack equipment, clothes and, at times, even food. Being there made me reassess the complaints some youths have in big cities. It’s inspiring to see these athletes make do with what they have and they – to me – are an example for many across the world.”

Newsha Tavakolian Mary is the aunt of the refugee athlete Anjelina Nadai, who will compete in the women’s 1500 meters at the Rio Olympics. Here she sits in the courtyard of her house inside the Kakuma Camp. The 28-y (...)
Newsha Tavakolian Refugee athletes from South Sudan, preparing to take part in the Rio Olympics, practicing under the supervision of a trainer at the Tegla Camp for refugee athletes, near Nairobi. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian A sick young girl at the Kakuma Refugee Camp hospital. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos

“When I went to take pictures of the mother of James (Chiengjiek), a very thin and frail woman, I told her I’m here because of James. She said she told him to continue his studies instead of running. She still didn’t understand that her son would compete. Without TV and any news, being an athlete, to her, seemed as a waste of time. But later when I met some youths who had a TV, they told me James was their example and the only way to have a future was through sports.”

Newsha Tavakolian On the left is Piech, Yiech Pur Biel’s older brother, and on the right is his best friend Bidiet. They are standing at the school where Pur Biel, the Olympic 800 metre runner, used to attend. The t (...)
Newsha Tavakolian Piech Pur Biel’s best friend at the school when the Olympic 800 metre runner used to attend. Kenya. 2016. © Newsha Tavakolian | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian A team of young boys playing football in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. Football is the only sport young boys play to keep them busy after school. The Kakuma Camp is home to thousands o (...)