Syrian woman who pushed sinking dinghy from Turkey to Lesbos to compete in Rio
Banu Şen - İZMİRAn 18-year-old Syrian who pushed a sinking dinghy toward Greece’s Lesbos Islands after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey has been chosen to compete at the Rio Olympics as part of a 10-strong refugee team.
“I just got a mail from the IOC [the International Olympic Committee] saying that I’m going to the Olympics; I’m so happy for that,” the young swimmer, Yusra Mardini, wrote on her Facebook account.
“I can’t describe how I feel and I want to thank everyone who helped me to arrive at this point,” she added.
The woman, alongside her sister Sarah Mardini, was among the top swimmers in Syria before the conflict that erupted in 2011 spread across the country, which prompted them to seek a better life in Europe via Turkey.
The sisters initially escaped to Lebanon and later made their way to Turkey. From Turkey’s Aegean coast, they paid human smugglers to reach Lesbos but were left abandoned half way across the Aegean.
According to reports, the motor of the dinghy that was carrying them toward Lesbos stopped around half-an-hour after they began the dangerous journey. The boat started taking on water even though the refugees threw out all bags and heavy items into the sea – at which point the two sisters jumped into the water and started pushing the boat toward the island on the horizon.
Reports indicate the sisters, accompanied by two other refugees, pushed the boat toward Lesbos for over three-and-a-half hours, managing to reach Lesbos.
From there, the Mardini sisters traveled to Germany, where Yusra Mardini joined the aquatic team Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 located near a refugee camp in Berlin.
Yusra Mardini was initially shortlisted among 43 athletes to join the Rio Olympics as part of the first team of refugees to compete under the Olympic banner. She was later named to the 10-strong team alongside another Syrian swimmer, two judo athletes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an Ethiopian long-distance runner and five middle distance runners from South Sudan.
The other Syrian swimmer to compete at the Olympics also resided in Turkey for some time after his family sent him to live with his brother who was studying in Istanbul at the time.
Rami Anis stayed in Turkey for “years,” reports suggest, during which period he practiced at the pool of Galatasaray. However, Anis was not given an identity card, preventing him from joining competitions.
Finally, Anis also paid human smugglers and crossed the Aegean to Greece’s Samos Island, from which he traveled to Ghent in Belgium.
The Olympics, which will run from Aug. 5 to 21, will include a team of refugees for the first time.
“These refugee athletes have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” IOC president Thomas Bach was reported as saying by Agence-France Presse.
“The invention of this refugee team is to give them a home in the Olympic village together with all the athletes around the world.”
The head of the U.N. refugee agency Filippo Grandi also hailed the unprecedented team as “a tribute to the courage and perseverance” of all those forced to flee from their home countries.
The team will be headed by Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe, a world record holder in several long-distance competitions and the first African woman to win the New York City marathon.