Refugee team mural unveiled in Rio

(Story corrects Luna’s job title in paragraph 8)

The portraits of all 10 members of the first Olympic refugee team now have a permanent place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian artists Rodrigo Sini and Cety dedicated a spray- painted mural on Thursday to the refugee athletes as a way of highlighting their importance.

“For me, they’re already gold medal champions,” Sini said while taking a short break from putting the finishing touches on the mural, which covers a 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) high and wide wall on Olympic Boulevard in the redeveloped port district.

“There is no medal that justifies the pleasure or the weight each of them carries, for the story each of them has, for the determination and courage they all had when they had to abandon their home countries to restart their lives somewhere else.”

The team of six men and four women includes athletes competing in swimming, judo and athletics. Five are from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia.

During the opening ceremony on Aug. 5, the refugee athletes marched into the games to thunderous applause under the Olympic flag.

From Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini to South Sudanese runner Rose Nathike Lokonyen, the athletes have been big crowd pleasers in Rio, especially as their stories of survival have spread.

Juliana Luna, who works as the #TeamRefugees Snapchat host and with the New York-based Purpose group, which helped bring the mural project to fruition, said the artwork was meant to compel people to think about the plight of some 65 million displaced people around the world.

“I hope they feel inspired. I hope they ask questions. ‘Who are these people? Who are these faces?’ These are the faces of hope. These are the faces of, you know, struggle,” said Luna.

“These are the faces of overcoming that struggle.”

(Reporting by Reuters TV; editing by Nina Chestney)

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