Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini was appointed the youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency 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 the resilience and determination to rebuild lives and positively contribute to host communities.
Yusra fled conflict in Syria when she was just a teenager and made the treacherous sea journey to Europe with her sister, Sara. The engine on their boat stopped working mid-crossing and the sisters and two others jumped into the water and, for several hours guided the dingy to safety, saving the lives of everyone onboard.
After finding refuge in Germany, Yusra was selected to compete at Rio 2016 as part of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. Having written about her struggle with being called refugee she became the proud flagbearer for the 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 honoured with several awards. Yusra competed once again for the Refugee Olympic Team at Tokyo 2020.
Yusra’s incredible story is told in her memoir ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ and in the Netflix film The Swimmers, released in November 2022.
In her role as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Yusra has shared her personal experience and her passion for refugee rights and inclusion with audiences from school children to CEOs, from thought leaders to heads of state. She has given keynote speeches at Google Zeitgeist, WE Day, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Global Women’s Forum and many other world stages. She also supports UNHCR campaigns, events and fundraising activities through extensive media and social media, including interviews with UNHCR Special Envoy Angeline Jolie for TIME, Olympic Swimmer Katie Ledecky for Discovery, CNN, MBC, BBC
In September 2019 Yusra returned to the Middle East for the first time since fleeing her home in Syria. She travelled 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 centre, hearing their stories and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
In April 2018 Yusra travelled with UNHCR to meet refugees in Sicily who had undertaken similar desperate 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 travelled with UNHCR to Japan to undertake a series of high level advocacy meetings and high profile media interviews in order to help build empathy and understanding of refugees ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Whilst there she also delivered an inspirational speech to hundreds of school children and took part in a Facebook Live with fellow UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Miyavi.