Yusra Mardini and Her Dangerous Journey

Yusra once had to swim the world’s deadliest sea crossing in order to survive. In Tokyo 2020, she will represent refugees everywhere and swim for Olympic gold.

Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee and the youngest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. As a child, Yusra just wanted to represent her country in international swimming meets, but the war in Syria changed her story.

In 2015, at the young age of 17, Yusra and her sister Sara made the decision that they had to flee to Europe in order to escape the war that was killing so many.

The Harrowing Journey at Sea

Yusra's Sea Journey

She wants to swim for gold. But first, Yusra Mardini had to swim for her life.

Gepostet von UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency am Montag, 14. Oktober 2019

Yusra and her sister boarded a boat with 18 others. The boats are overcrowded, engines have stalled and the waves are finicky. They were terrified as they set out to sea – many women, men, and children lost their lives making this journey.

It was only around 10 kilometers from the coast to island of Lesvos. And true enough, the boat stopped and the engine sputtered. They were stranded at sea with the wind blowing. Yusra and her sister took turns in the water to prevent it from sinking to the depths.

They swam for more than three hours. Eventually, the engine came back and they were able to reach the coast.

“I struggle with the story, to understand why we made it when many others didn’t. Each time I hear about a group drowning at sea, it takes me back there, clinging to the boat’s rope, desperately treading water,” Mardini said.

Beyond her Dreams

Yusra eventually made it to Germany where she was received warmly. In a foreign country, she continued to swim. All this came to fruition when she was competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016 as a member of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team.

But beyond achieving her dream, Yusra is also a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR where she gets to campaign for those who like her have undergone dangerous journeys. In her capacity as a Goodwill Ambassador, Yusra met with Rita, a woman who lost loved ones because of the violence in Nigeria. Rita continued to lose her loved ones as they crossed the sea to Europe. Yusra listened to the harrowing stories of the girls who were sold when they were searching safety.

“It really broke my heart. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night after what I’ve heard,” she said.


A Voice for the Voiceless

Yusra is training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But even then, she works with to spread awareness about the children, like her, who have fled from their homes because of war and violence. Together, we can provide safety for the children who arrive in Europe.