Refugee swimmer ” Yusra Mardini “
Yusra and her elder sister fled the Syrian war and set off on a perilous journey to find safety in Europe. In summer 2015, they traveled through Lebanon to Turkey before departing for Greece in an overcrowded dinghy.
Fifteen minutes into the sea crossing, the boat’s engine failed. As a professional swimmer, Yusra was determined not to let any of her fellow passengers drown. Yusra, her sister, and two others jumped into the waves and swam for three and a half hours in open water to stop their dinghy from capsizing, saving the lives of 20 people.
A year later, Yusra’s courage, determination, and strong swimming skills were recognized by the International Olympic Committee and became a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Yusra competed at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, helping to represent 65 million displaced people worldwide.
Since then, Yusra has addressed the United Nations General Assembly and met world leaders such as US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis. She has been presented with a number of prestigious awards and has been recognized for her work by Time and People magazines.
Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini was appointed the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in April 2017, aged just 19. She advocates for refugees globally through sharing her own inspiring story and has become a powerful voice for the forcibly displaced across the world and an example of their resilience and determination to rebuild lives and positively contribute to host communities.
Yusra was selected to compete at Rio 2016 as part of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. She was catapulted on to the world’s stage and subsequently went on to address world leaders at the UN General Assembly, meet the Pope, and be honored with several awards. Yusra’s incredible story is told in her memoir ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ which is currently being adapted into a film.
Yusra has spoken on behalf of UNHCR at Google Zeitgeist, WE Day, the World Economic Forum in Davos, and many other global stages. She also supports UNHCR campaigns and events and fundraising activities. Yusra hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, rescheduled to 2021.
In September 2019 Yusra returned to the Middle East for the first time since fleeing her home. She traveled to Jordan with UNHCR to spend time with fellow Syrians living in Zaatari Refugee Camp. She met with a group of young girls involved in an informal education and empowerment project at a UNHCR supported community center, hearing their stories and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
In April 2018 Yusra traveled with UNHCR to meet refugees in Sicily who had undertaken similar journeys to her own to escape conflict and reach safety. Yusra reflected on her trip in a takeover of the official UNHCR Instagram account and wrote the foreword for our Desperate Journeys report focused on children and young people. In August 2017 Yusra traveled with UNHCR to Japan to undertake a series of high-level advocacy meetings, give an inspirational speech at a school, and undertake several media interviews and a Facebook Live with fellow UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Miyavi.
Yusra now lives in Berlin, Germany, and is concentrating on her professional swimming career. She aims to compete at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Yusra is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and works to alter global perceptions of refugees. Her message of hope, determination, and courage reminds us that those who flee their countries are capable of achieving great things.