From Syria to the Olympics, refugee tells how she swam for her life

Mon Aug 1, 2016 3:02pm EDT
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By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Last year Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini had to swim for her life when her boat broke down as she tried to reach Europe; this month the teenager will be swimming in the Rio Olympics.

Yusra, who is a member of the first ever Olympic refugee team, told how she and her sister Sara feared they might drown after their overloaded dinghy started taking in water as they crossed the Mediterranean to Greece.

Along with another refugee they jumped in the sea and pulled the boat for three hours through the water, saving the lives of 19 others.

"When I was in the water there was fear. You don't know whether you are going to live or die," the 18-year-old said in a video interview published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Mardini, who will compete in the 100-metre freestyle, is among 10 athletes in the refugee team which will march behind the Olympic flag at Friday's opening ceremony in Brazil.

"When I was swimming for my life, I never would have believed I would be where I am now," the IOM quoted her as saying.

The two sisters, who now live in Germany, left their home in Syria's war-battered capital Damascus a year ago and headed to Turkey.

One evening they boarded a dinghy on the Turkish coast along with 20 others - around three times as many people as it was designed to carry.   Continued...

Rio Olympics - Olympic Park - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 01/08/2016. Syrian refugee team swimmer Yusra Mardini, 18, from Syria practices at the Olympic swimming venue.           REUTERS/Michael Dalder