Syrian refugee swimmer hopes biopic will help other displaced people – Digital Journal


Yusra Mardini attended the London premiere of ‘The Swimmers’ in October – Copyright AFP ISABEL INFANTES

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Syrian refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini, who nearly drowned at sea while fleeing her war-torn country before competing in two Olympic Games, hopes a new film about her life will help other displaced people.

Yusra, 24, believes that “The Swimmers”, which chronicles the perilous journey across Europe that she and her older sister Sarah undertook in 2015, has “an amazing message” that will give viewers “joy, hope, tears and sadness “.

The dramatization, which is currently playing in select cinemas in the UK, US and Germany ahead of its world premiere on Netflix next Wednesday, portrays the two leaving their parents and younger sister in Syria to seek refuge in Germany.

Once there, Yusra managed to restart swimming training and qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics and, five years later, for the Tokyo Games as part of the refugee team.

“When we decided to make this film…we wanted to see an impact,” he told the audience at a London screening of the film this week.

“It is very important that this film shows what a refugee is really like. We want to be a DJ. We want to be architects. We want to be doctors, engineers, and we are, even before coming to the Western world.”

Set to a pulsating soundtrack featuring artists such as Australian singer Sia and Arabic music, the 134-minute film recounts the sisters’ near-death experience crossing the Aegean Sea in a damaged, leaking rubber boat. .

On the treacherous journey from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, the small boat, which was carrying nearly 20 people instead of the half dozen it was designed to carry, threatens to capsize after its engine fails.

– ‘Safe place’ –

The sisters, who were among the few on board who could swim, jumped into the water for several hours to lighten the weight of the battered inflatable until it was finally able to make it to shore.

“It was really scary for us, even if we are swimmers,” Yusra recalled, adding that she was most worried about a boy in the boat, even though he was only 17 years old.

“It is the sea. It’s not the pool and you don’t know what to do.”

During the dramatic journey, the film shows her telling a fellow refugee: “Swimming is my home. It’s where I belong” and predicting that one day she would compete in the Olympics.

Finally arriving in Berlin, Yusra joined a swimming club and met the coach who helps her achieve that dream.

“The pool was my safe place, even in Germany,” she explained, noting that it helped her “fit in.”

“I met so many people and they became a kind of family to me. I’m still with the swim club today.”

The Mardini brothers entrusted their remarkable story to British writer Jack Thorne and Egyptian-Welsh director Sally El Hosaini, with real-life French-Lebanese sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa portraying them on screen.

Yusra described the actresses as her “doppelgangers”, but noted that they also brought their own perspectives.

“They come from Lebanon. They understand what we go through. And I think that was very, very important.

“They did an amazing job and played the role of themselves and not us, but they honored us,” he said.

– ‘Loud voice’ –

The Mardini sisters joined their parents and younger brother once they settled in Germany, and the family now lives there.

However, Sarah and many other humanitarian activists face criminal charges in Greece, including espionage, forgery and assisting a criminal organization, on charges of helping migrants cross the Aegean.

The 27-year-old, previously also a competitive swimmer, had returned to Lesbos as a volunteer and reportedly affiliated with the non-profit search and rescue group Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), which operated there from 2016 to 2018.

“It has been very difficult for her,” Yusra said, adding that her older sister was recently allowed to re-enter Greece while the case continues.

“Those charges were not fair and she faces up to 25 years in prison, not only herself, but also other people. And those people were just volunteers.

“We are just trying to help refugees and it is very sad.”

The Greek embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.

During her appearance in London, Yusra, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador since 2017, also revealed that she had banished initial doubts about being on the refugee Olympic team.

“I realized that it’s not just about me anymore… It’s about the refugees. It’s about representing them.

“I got such a strong voice after that and I was like, ‘You know what? Why not use it?’”


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