Rio 2016 Olympic opening ceremony
The Refugee Olympic Athletes' team at the Macarena Stadium in Rio de Janeiro David Gray/Reuters

Dubai detained seven members of the team of refugees that competed in the 2016 Olympic Games when they arrived to speak at an event attended by the Gulf state's ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, IBTimes UK has learned.

The athletes – all African members of the official Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) – were held for up to 11 hours in Dubai International Airport despite being officially invited the annual Global Education and Skills Foundation conference at the Atlantis Hotel.

They were due to talk about their experiences as the first ever Olympic refugee team and the global plight of those fleeing conflict.

IBTimes UK understands that those held included two athletes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have refugee status in Brazil, and five South Sudanese, who currently live in Kenya. They had arrived late on 17 March and had to sleep overnight in the airport.

All seven competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, taking part in events ranging from marathon running to judo.

They had been invited to speak at the GESF, which is organised by the Varkey Foundation and held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed, the vice-president of the UAE and prime minister of Dubai.

Neither the Dubai Government Media Office or Dubai Airports responded for request for comment. The Varkey Foundation declined to comment.

The International Olympic Committee Press Office said in a statement: "We have learned from the media about the incident and we are in touch with UNHCR.

"We understand that they were not detained but there were delayed because of an issue with their travel documents which seem to not have corresponded with international recognised standard of Conventional Travel Documents for refugees."

The 10 members of the team eventually spoke at the event on 19 March, ahead of the awarding of the $1m Global Teachers Prize.

The six states of the Gulf – Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain – have been criticised repeatedly in recent years for their failure to resettle refugees, including those from Syria.

*This story was amended on 24 March. Sheikh Mohammed is a patron of the Global Teacher Prize, he does not sponsor the event.