“Sometimes when I have my iPhone they are like, ‘you know iPhone, oh my God’ – but I’m like, ‘of course’. They think we live in some desert. No, we had everything like you.” These are Yusra Mardini’s words, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee who is a part of Olympic refugee team.
Yusra, one of the ten contenders of the Refugee Olympics team, is right. A refugee has lost a home and a homeland, not the spirit to fight and the zeal to live. Once a competitive swimmer supported by the Syrian Olympic Committee, Yusra, who has now found refuge in Germany, is competing in the 100m freestyle swimming category.
In March this year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took a historic decision. It said it will send a team of refugees (for the first time) for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. IOC wanted to send “a message of hope for all the refugees”. In accordance to IOC’s pledge to support potential star athletes impacted by the global refugee crisis, National Olympic Committe (NOC)s were sounded to scout for potential athletes. Once selected and filtered through a rigorous process, the selected final 10 candidates were funded by the IOC to move further.
Yusra, along with the other nine team members will be housed in the Olympic Village. Among other things, the refugee Olympic team will get its own welcome ceremony at the Olympic Village, just like the other teams. Considering the financial instability of the refugees, IOC will provide the team uniforms. Because the team doesn’t represent one particular nation, for all official representations, the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic Anthem will be played.
The refugee contingent has athletes mostly from South Sudan, who are runners. There are two Congolese Judakos competing in the Judo discipline and two Syrian swimmers, one of whom is Yasra. Rami Anis, the other contender was an international swimmer in Syria. When war broke out in Syria, Rami who was then 20, decided to leave for Turkey, because the young man wanted to avoid getting inducted into the army. The family moved to Belgium in October 2015.
Yusra, like her Syrian counterpart, was a competitive swimmer who represented her country in international contests. As war in their homeland grew bigger, Yusra and her sister left the country last August and reached Berlin in September 2015. But what makes Yusra shine, is her grit that she showed in reaching Germany.
On their flight from Damascus, Yusra and her sister Sarah hopped onto an overcrowded dinghy, hoping to cross the Mediterranean and reach the Greek island of Lesbos. To their bad luck, half an hour later, the engine died and their boat wobbled badly. Yusra, along with her sister and another woman, got into the water and swam in the harsh sea waters, all the while pulling the dinghy until they reached the shore.
Like Yusra and Sami, the other refugees in their team have tales of great toil, separation and uprootedness. As wars ravaged their homes, every one of them left their countries in search of a dream across many borders. The frontiers that they crossed are physical and psychological. They might or might not win a medal in the upcoming Rio Olympics. But that they represent the aspirations of millions of refugees worldwide is a big feat.