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Successful Refugees and Immigrants Leading the Way, Part 14 of a Multi-part Series: From Syrian Refugee to Olympic Athlete – Yusra Mardinii

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Today, we will introduce another remarkable refugee, Yusra Mardini. She bravely saved her companions during an extremely dangerous escape from Syria in 2015 and became an Olympic swimmer a year later. Now she is also a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, dedicating her voice to speaking up for millions of refugees around the world.

In 2015, an unexploded bomb pierced through the roof of the swimming pool where she trained. This was the turning point when she realized she had to leave Syria to live a life beyond strife and swim again. When the Mardini sisters arrived in Berlin, Germany, they stayed in an overcrowded refugee camp at first, and Yusra felt the negative connotations of the word refugee. However, she was determined to pursue her dream to become an Olympic swimmer.

In early 2016, the International Olympic Committee announced that a first-ever Refugee Olympic Team would join the Summer Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same year. Ms. Mardini was identified as one of the 43 candidates to potentially qualify for the team, but she initially hesitated as she wanted to compete in the Olympics on merit, not out of pity. Yet, she agreed to race after her parents convinced her that she earned and deserved the nomination. She realized that it’s not just about herself and thought, “It’s about the community that I’m fighting for. It’s about refugees. It’s about athletes. It’s about swimmers. It’s about being a voice for people who don’t have a voice.”

Since her participation with the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team, Yusra Mardini has become a powerhouse for refugee rights. She has spoken on the topic during her meetings with His Holiness Pope Francis, the then-President of the United States, His Excellency Barack Obama, as well as other world leaders. In September 2016, she advocated for refugees to have access to safe shelter, education, livelihoods and training opportunities at the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis held at the United Nations. “I want to help change people’s perceptions of what a refugee is. For everyone to understand, it is not a choice to flee from your home. Refugees are normal people who can achieve great things if given the opportunity.”

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