Yusra Mardini, a Syrian teenage girl who helped save a boat carrying fellow refugees and later became an Olympic swimmer, was appointed today as Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency.
“This is a great day for UNHCR, it’s a great day for Refugees”, said Kelly T. Clements, UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner to media representatives in Geneva. “Yusra Mardini, as of today, is UNHCR’s new goodwill ambassador and she is also proud, I think, to be the youngest goodwill ambassador that the organization has had in its long history. We met last August during the closing of the Olympic Games. She was a proud member of the Refugee Olympic Team and competed, inspiring literally millions of people. We have in the world 21.3 million refugees and over half are children, children under the age of 18”.
On her long journey to escape war-torn Damascus in 2015, Yusra’s overloaded boat broke down between Turkey and the coast of Lesvos. Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped into the sea to pull the boat for hours to safety. UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner commended Yusra’s strength and courage.
She said that “through her words and her courage and her commitment and her passion and her perseverance and even today finding 2-3 hours to train, to swim, but also to tell her story and inspire so many people. I think about a lot of words when I think about Yusra: resilience, hope, strength, courage and she will tell you her story but what is so important about her joining our team - the UNHCR team - that she will provide a voice for so many refugees around the world. And that is a powerful message, and a powerful message of hope”.
Yusra’s strong swimming skills were recognized by the International Olympic Committee and she became a team member, swimming on the first Refugee Olympic team in Rio last year.
Since then Yusra has worked closely with UNHCR, discussing refugees' challenges with leaders like Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.
Speaking about the first-ever refugee Olympic Team and the wider global refugee crisis, Mardini said that “it was a really good idea and all of us had actually the chance to speak out and a lot of people now know us, what we did and how we competed at the Olympics.
And it was a really great idea, and, of course, we wish that we will be there again in Tokyo, that the team will stay. Maybe, of course, we don’t want to say forever, because we wish that there are no refugees anymore, but till this (refugee) issue is done”.
Yusra continues to train in the hope of competing at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 while studying full time in Berlin, Germany. Her extended family is still living in the Syrian capital Damascus.