How African refugee women’s team defied odds at Belgrade World Championships


In the heart of Belgrade, amidst the chilly air that whispered tales of history and triumph, four remarkable women etched their names into the annals of athletics lore.

Esterina Irino Julius, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, Perina Lokure Nakang, and Farida Abaroge – refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia – formed an extraordinary team that transcended borders, adversity, and limitations.

Their journey to the World Athletics Cross Country Championships was not merely about running a race; it was a testament to resilience, hope, and the power of sport to transform lives.

 Led by Alice Annibali, the team’s senior manager, these women carried with them the weight of their pasts while chasing dreams that once seemed unattainable.

For Abaroge, athletics represented more than just a competition; it symbolized freedom. Fleeing political unrest in Ethiopia, she found solace in the rhythm of her footsteps, the wind brushing against her skin as she raced towards a future filled with promise.

No longer confined by the limitations of her refugee status, Abaroge stood tall, a beacon of hope for others who dared to dream.

Lohalith echoed similar sentiments, recognizing that her journey was not just about crossing the finish line but about healing the wounds of the past. With each stride, she found liberation from the memories that once haunted her, embracing a new identity as an athlete, a warrior, a symbol of resilience.

Nakang’s story was one of determination and perseverance. From the dusty fields of Kakuma camp to the world stage in Belgrade, she defied the odds, fueled by a relentless desire to succeed not just for herself but for her family, her community, her people.

And then there was Julius, the youngest member of the team, whose dreams soared higher than the mountains she once called home. With each lap, each race, she chased after the legacy of her role model, Faith Kipyegon, knowing that greatness awaited her on the other side of the finish line.

Together, these women formed a sisterhood bound by a shared love for athletics and a common vision for a better future. They were more than just runners; they were ambassadors of hope, ambassadors of change, ambassadors of a world where borders could not confine the human spirit.

As they lined up at the starting line, hearts pounding with anticipation, they knew that they were not just running for themselves but for every refugee, every woman, every dreamer who dared to defy the odds. And as they crossed the finish line, arms intertwined, smiles radiant with pride, they knew that they had made history not just for themselves but for generations to come.

Their journey was a reminder that in the face of adversity, the human spirit could soar, that with perseverance and determination, anything was possible.

They had not just run a race; they had paved the way for a brighter, more inclusive future, where dreams knew no boundaries and hope knew no limits.

In the end, it wasn’t about medals or records; it was about the journey, the friendships forged, the obstacles overcome. It was about proving that no matter where you came from or what obstacles you faced, you could achieve greatness if you dared to believe.

And as they stood atop the podium, tears glistening in their eyes, they knew that they had not just made history; they had become a part of it. For they were the All South Sudanese and Ethiopian-female Athlete Refugee Team, and their story would inspire generations to come, proving that in the game of life, the ultimate victory was not in winning but in daring to play.

Photo: World Athletics

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