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Yusra Mardini in NY address says ‘not a choice’ to be refugee

Obama told her ‘we’ve proud of you Yusra,’ describing her as a good example for young girls

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The 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who swam for the refugee team at the Rio Olympics last month, told world leaders at the UN summit on migrants and refugees on Tuesday that it was not a “choice” to flee one’s home.

“This experience [the Olympics] has also given me is a voice,” she said. “I want to change perceptions about refugees. It is not a choice to flee your home, and refugees can achieve anything.”

Mardini told the world leaders how she “endured hardships” when she journeyed with her families across six countries to finally arrive in Germany, her new home now.

“During the journey from Turkey to Greece our boat engine died, my sister and I along with two guys jumped overboard to help people arrive safely,” she said.

“Amazing to think, just a year later [after leaving Syria], I was competing in the Olympics,” she added. “I am now based in Germany where my family has to build a new life but it is hard to start with nothing again.”

She said practising sport is not only her “refuge” but one way to “integrate” into her “new country, new friends and new life.”

After finishing her address, US President Barack Obama told her “we’ve proud of you Yusra,” describing her as a good example for young girls, including her 8-year-old sister.