Netflix Film ‘The Swimmers’ Highlights Syrian Refugee Sisters Journey to Rio Olympics

NEW YORK – The Netflix film ‘The Swimmers’ follows two young sisters, Sarah and Yusra Mardini, from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, as they embark on a risky voyage, putting their hearts and their swimming skills to heroic use.

The film, directed by BAFTA winner Sally El Hosaini, executive produced by Stephen Daldry and starring real-life sisters Manal Issa and Nathalie Issa as Sarah and Yusra Mardini, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is now among Netflix’s big Oscar hopefuls.

“Sarah, now 26, and Yusra Mardini, now 24, left their home in Damascus in August 2015, four years after the conflict broke out in March 2011, in a bid to reach Europe,” the Daily Mail Online reported, adding that “they planned to fly to Constantinople, before traveling to Greece via sea, then on land to Germany, but the journey nearly ended in tragedy when the motor on the dinghy they took across the Aegean Sea stalled, leaving its 18 occupants in peril.”

“They then spent three hours pushing the dinghy across the water from Turkey to Greece,” Daily Mail reported, noting that “their daring actions were made possible thanks to the lifelong swimming training their father Ezzat had provided.”

“Miraculously, the boat reached the island of Lesvos, and everyone onboard survived,” the Daily Mail reported.

Yusra Mardini. (Photo: Yusra Mardini, via Wikimedia Commons)

“We just had to do it,” Yusra told the Daily Mail. “The boat was built for seven or eight but carried 20 people. Sarah and I went into the water with another guy who could swim. We pushed for three hours, the worst being the cold and the dark.”

“It would have been shameful if the people on our boat had drowned,” Yusra told the Daily Mail. “There were people who didn’t know how to swim. I wasn’t going to sit there and complain that I would drown. If I was going to drown, at least I’d drown proud of myself and my sister.”

Sarah told the Daily Mail: “It was scary actually for the other people who were with us in the boat, but not for me. I just wanted to get everyone safely to the island. Which we did, thank God.”

After swimming for three hours, they made it to the Greek island of Lesvos and everyone had survived, Daily Mail reported, adding that “for the sisters, the moment they washed up on that beach was the end of five years of terror.”

“They had stayed in Damascus, the Syrian capital, throughout the first years of the civil war, trying to ignore the bombs destroying the city around them,” Daily Mail reported, noting that “in 2012, Yusra even represented her country at the World Championships in Turkey, but as conditions got worse, her swimming began to take a back seat.”

“The war was hard; sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war,” Yusra told the Daily Mail. “Or sometimes you had training but there was a bomb in the swimming pool.”

From refugee camps in Lebanon, then crossing into Europe, eventually, “the sisters found safety in Germany,” the Daily Mail reported, adding that “their goal was to train, with a view to competing in the 2020 Olympic games.”

“However, that year, for the first time in its history, the International Olympic Committee announced that the nations competing in Rio would be joined by a team of refugees, made up of athletes who would otherwise find themselves stateless and excluded,” Daily Mail reported, noting that “Yusra became one of the 42 athletes representing the team, swimming in the 100m butterfly, and winning one of the heats.”

Speaking about the team, Yusra told the Daily Mail, “I want to represent all refugees because I want to show everyone that after the pain, after the storm, come calm days. I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”

‘The Swimmers’, the film inspired by their story, is now available on Netflix.


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