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NEWS FEATURE Refugee judokas emboldened to keep on fighting after Rio debut By Albert Otti, dpa

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More than 60 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Two of them made it to the Rio Olympics as judokas, and the experience inspires them to keep competing.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - "Popole! Popole!," Brazilian spectators chanted as the Congolese judoka of the Olympian refugee team stepped onto the mat.

Popole Misenga, 24, emerged as a crowd favourite at the 90-kilogram event Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, where he advanced from his first round but met his match in the round of 16.

Misenga and his compatriot Yolande Bukasa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo sought asylum in Brazil in 2013 when they both attended the judo World Championships in Rio.

Now that they have made their Olympic debuts as part of the International Olympic Committee‘s refugee team, both sides made clear that they see their future in competition.

The compact Misenga first beat India‘s Avtar Singh by scoring one yuko against his long-limbed opponent in a drawn-out encounter, in which both men got entangled in a brutal lock on the floor.

In the round of 16, he then squared off against South Korean world champion Gwak Dong Han, who ended Misenga‘s run at the Rio Games with an ippon throw.

"I want everybody to get on my side and support me, because I am going to win a medal one day," Misenga told reporters after his bout with Gwan.

"I have been training hard," Misenga said.

"But I need to compete in more championships between now and the next Olympics in order to qualify for the next Olympics."

Misenga has made an unlikely journey to the Olympic stage.

He comes from Bukavu, one of the areas in Congo that was worst affected in the 1998-2003 civil war.

He said he lost his mother and the rest of his family.

"I managed to board a truck to Kinshasa and got on a boat and that‘s where I learned judo, and then I became champion in Dakar and other places in Africa," he said earlier at the Games in Rio.

When he started living in Brazil, he stopped training at first because he did not know any clubs.

People introduced him to a gym, where he ended up preparing for the Olympics.

He has also married a Brazilian woman, and they have a son and a daughter.

"The people here in Brazil helped me," he said.

Not everyone is so lucky.

A record 65.3 million people around the world are currently internally displaced, asylum seekers or refugees, according to the United Nations.

The Rio Games take place against a backdrop of divisive debates in Western countries on refugee policies, which have resulted in tougher immigration policies in a number of wealthy countries.

Although judoka Yolande Bukasa has also been granted refugee status in Brazil, she still keenly feels the separation from her homeland.

However, the 70kg class judoka says her Olympic debut is a signal to other refugees that no dreams are to big.

"I am away from friends, from my family, from my country, so I think I am an example," she said Wednesday.

Bukasa was eliminated in the round of 32 with an ippon by her Israeli opponent Linda Bolder.

"Even though I lost, my name will be known for being in Rio 2016," she said. "This is a very happy day in my life. I will never forget it."

Bukasa became separated from her parents at a young age in the civil war. She started training judo in a shelter for displaced children.

In Brazil, she tried to find work for two years. But when she failed because of her lacking language skills, she turned to judo again.

Bukasa vowed she would continue competing.

"I am a warrior, not because I am in judo, but because I am a real warrior," she said after her bout.



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