Swimmers Sara and Yusra Mardini helped light up the red carpet for the star-studded TIME 100 Gala 2023 in New York City. The sisters were named to the magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world list this year.
Yusra burst onto the international scene while competing for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio 2016 Games. She followed this up by competing at three editions of the World Aquatics Championships and at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
She penned the autobiography Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph. Published in 2018, the book's storyline chronicled Yusra’s journey from Syria as a war refugee with her sister to realise her dream of competing at the Olympic Games.
“It’s crazy to think that millions of people go through that,” Mardini said in an earlier interview with World Aquatics. “I think about it a lot because I tell my story a lot. I was very, very lucky to be fine – and my sister, not to lose her.”
After the Olympics, I realised that it’s not just my story anymore. I realised that my responsibility is to raise awareness and bring hope to millions of refugees around the world and speak for all of those who do not have a voice.
The Mardini sister’s 25-day journey to freedom – which included swimming for three hours in the open Aegean Ocean to reach the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos – saw the two then chart a new life through swimming in Germany where they received the right of residency and resumed their Olympic aspirations. Their odyssey was chronicled in the BAFTA-nominated film “The Swimmers.”
The film drew rave reviews and a notable audience on Netflix where it peaked as the streaming site's No.2 watched programme in November 2022.
Australian Cate Blanchett penned the TIME Magazine piece on Sara and Yusra Mardini's impact and influence. The Oscar-winning actor and a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador wrote:
In 2015, sisters and competitive swimmers Yusra and Sara Mardini fled Syria because of conflict. During the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, their dinghy’s engine failed. The sisters were among those who jumped into the water to guide the overcrowded boat to safety, saving the lives of all on board.
After seeking asylum in Germany, Yusra began swimming again and was selected for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Now a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, she shares her story with audiences around the world to demonstrate the determination of refugees to achieve their dreams despite facing trauma, hardship, and loss.
Sara returned to Greece to volunteer with a search-and-rescue NGO. There, she was one of 24 aid workers arrested on charges that were widely criticized by human-rights groups and have since been dismissed on procedural grounds. An ongoing investigation shines a global spotlight on the hostility and risks that rescuers can face.
The Swimmers, a 2022 movie inspired by the sisters’ powerful story, brought to a mass audience the human reality of what it means to be displaced. That story continues as both Yusra and Sara fiercely advocate for everyone’s right to seek safety. Whoever. Wherever. Whenever.
These days, you can find Yusra studying cinematic arts at the University of Southern California.
Sara works with a non-governmental organisation helping refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.