Yusra Mardini, an 18-year-old swimmer who fled the war in Syria, glides through the water in her last race of the Rio 2016 Olympics Games
© UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

About Yusra

Since her selection for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Nineteen-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini has worked closely with UNHCR, highlighting with her own inspiring performances the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team and the wider global refugee crisis.

She 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, and was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in April 2017.

Yusra fled Damascus with her sister, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece by boat. When the motor failed, Yusra, her sister and two others jumped into the sea and swam for three hours in open water to stop their dinghy from capsizing, saving the lives of 20 people. Eventually they reached the Greek island of Lesvos.

She now lives in Berlin but much of her extended family is still in Damascus, enduring life under very difficult circumstances. Yusra is still concerned with the situation at home in Syria. Her own experience of flight has made her determined to help focus the attention of the world on refugee issues.

Since competing at Rio 2016, Yusra has gone on to address world leaders, meet the Pope and been honoured with many awards. She is determined to continue to build and develop her voice and skills as an advocate for the refugee cause.

In April 2018 Yusra met refugees in Sicily - learning more about the parallels between her experiences and those of others who have been forced to flee their homes - and reflected on her trip via a takeover of the official UNHCR Instagram account.

Yusra attended the 2017 World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland in January 2017. She was the Forum’s youngest participant and shared her story on the WEF blog. Learn more about Yusra's experiences since competing at Rio, including her time at Davos, here.  

“Since Rio I’ve been training hard but I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I can do to help refugees across the world.  The most important thing in my life is swimming. Then speaking and doing things to help refugees.”

Additional media materials on Yusra are available here.