What a remarkable young lady
you are. Thank you.
I have four children, and I wish they would be like you. I’ve one exactly
the same age — I’m sure they are special.
One exactly the same age as you. That’s very kind of you, but they’re not. [ Laughter ]
No, I’m sure they are. I’m sure they are.
They are lovely. They are lovely. Really quite remarkable. So we saw your story there. I think most of you got the gist of
it, that Yusra left Damascus. She lived in a suburb of Damascus, in August 2015. Went
to Lebanon first, and then Turkey, and then trying to get to Greece.
That’s a lot of countries. Yeah. Trying to get to Greece.
The motor in your boat fails. Yeah.
You, your sister Sarah — Yeah.
who is a little bit older than you and two others —
Yes. towed the boat and you
arrived at the Greek — Exactly.
the island of Lesbos. Yeah.
So in that time, I mean, you know, you heard — we heard you say in
your film you just don’t know whether you’re going to live or die in the water.
Yeah, exactly. What was it like, the three
hours you were towing that boat? Well, they tell you that
it is a — it is a journey of 45 minutes. It is, like, from an island — a really near
island in Turkey to Greece. They tell you it’s 45 minutes, like the smugglers and so
on. So we were on the boat, and then after the
— the journey started, after, like, 15 minutes, the motor stopped of the journey. And then
the motor was, like, stopping and moving, stopping and moving. So after that, we decided
that people gonna go down in the water because the water was filling in the boat. Because
this boat is, like — fits for summer holiday for seven persons and imagine being 20 in
it. So, yeah, we were 20 people. And then the friend of my dad was with us, so he told
us someone had to jump to the water. And then it was my sister first, and then it was me,
and then there was also two guys. But the most of the people on the boat don’t know
how to swim, even. We were from Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, also.
So after that, yeah, we stayed three hours and a half, and it was like 7:00 p.m. And,
yeah, after this three hours and a half of, I don’t know.
Did you think you’d make it at the time? Did you think you would?
No, I was — we were like if you’re going to see how the boats are,
like, moving and how every — everyone in the boat is praying in the same stuff and
the same stuff and loudly, you would say this is incredible how people can unite when it’s
really bad situation. But it’s sad because we only united in the water, you know, when
it’s — it’s really bad. Remarkable. 17 years of age
and she was doing that. Incredible. Thanks.
So you come from a family of swimmers. Your father was a swimming coach,
and your mother is also into — Yeah.
physical education. Physical —
and so on. And your sister Sarah and you and your little sister, you
were trained from a very early age. You could swim by the time you were four.
Yeah, fortunately. So your sister gave up, though,
but you decided that you wanted to carry — Yeah. on swimming. And as we
heard you competed in the refugee team in Rio, and you’re going to go —
True. to Tokyo. Yeah, you’re
training every day — Yeah.
twice a day, two hours. Four hours in total.
Well, I had trained ten times a week. And so it’s two trainings a day which
means — one training is two hours, so four hours every day swimming. I don’t think everyone
would do that. Yeah. You’ve had a little
break, though, while you’ve been here at Google Zeitgeist; right? There’s a break.
Yeah, my college gave me a break, finally.
Thank you. Very good, very good.
So you were very keen to be part of this refugee team —
Sure. because you want it really,
you know, challenge people’s perceptions — Of course.
of refugees being sort of needy outsiders who come in and they just
want to, you know, live off the state, and so on. That you want to show that they’re
athletes, that they can make a positive contribution in so many ways.
I mean, what does it mean? Because you say refugee is your middle name.
Yeah, kind of. So what am I working on, like, I started,
since I was in the Olympics and right now, as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR. I’m
trying to reach out for the people with the voices, actually, of all the refugees there,
knowing that 50% of them are underage, which means they are children, and so on.
And I’m trying with what I’m doing, the speeches I’m doing and being at the Olympics, I was
trying to represent them around the world. And, yeah, a lot of people asking what a refugee
is. Some people think he chose to come to another land and he want to start a new life.
No. A lot of people have to understand that there was violence in his country and a lot
of really bad problems with war and violence, and so on; that that’s why we had to leave
our country. If I were to choose to leave my country or
not. Of course I’m not going to leave my country, I love it so much.
And, yeah, this is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to reach out to more people, actually,
because now with the UNHCR, I’m trying to create new ways, actually, because, as you
know, I’m the youngest now, so I’m trying to
You’re the youngest goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission
for Refugees, UNHCR. Yeah. Yeah. That’s impressive.
That is very impressive. [ Applause ]
So, yeah, this is what I’m trying to do. And, yeah, I’m trying to trying
to create new ways with the UNHCR. We are working on that. We are going to try to go
to camps, of course. This is a part of my job now. And I’m continuing swimming, also,
to show some people that we are still the doctors, the engineers, the swimmers, the
athletes that — That you can make a useful
contribution to the societies — Exactly.
that you come to. Exactly.
I mean, there are interesting figures, aren’t there, that for every one
migrant who works in a — in an economy, I think they — their contribution is threefold
to the economic activity in that country, something which we often
lose sight of. So you, with Google Zeitgeist and UNHCR, have
launched this new joint initiative which — Yeah.
is called Search in Syria. It’s great.
A new content website. And you feature on that because Google had 169
million hits last year, people wanting to find out, you know, about the situation in
Syria — Yeah.
you know, why are people leaving as refugees and so on and so forth.
What do you hope to achieve through that content website?
Well, I — I checked it out, and I think it’s really great step because,
actually, what is inside this website, there is five points which was the most — the top
search in the Google about Syria, whose — what is refugee, what was like Syria before the
war, what is happening in Syria, and who are Syrians, even.
I checked it out, and of course I was about to cry because I was seeing everything about
my country and it was great. And there’s a lot of facts everyone knows the — needs to
know about Syria. And this website is, like, really fascinating.
And I think it’s a really great website because it’s answering a lot of questions. It’s showing
that Syria is an actual country. It’s not a desert, actually, like a lot of people think.
And it’s showing that we are well educated and we had everything in our country.
And, yeah, I mean, it shows that it’s — it’s a war happened because — yeah, it’s a pity
that it happened there. it’s a great country. Of course.
And I think it’s going to be launched sometime soon, isn’t it?
Yeah. But I think everybody has
an opportunity to go to — Check it.
Yeah, to check it out, and you ought to do that.
But, you know, you said of course nobody leaves their country willing.
Exactly. And you said you love your
own country, and so on, and you lived left there with your parents and your two sisters.
But your house, your home was bombed, wasn’t it? Completely destroyed.
Yeah. Because it’s, like, near Damascus, our home, and at some point
we couldn’t go inside anymore. So — so you don’t know if the — if the house is standing
or it’s bombed or not. But of course is everything is on the floor, seeing the pictures on Google
or some stuff that you put on the area, then how should your house stand, like, till now.
So — But, yeah. This gave — gave me and my sister the strength to — to take this
journey and to convince our parents. Because of course none of the parents will —
It’s a very risky journey. be happy with that.
Especially, yes, for two young women —
Yeah. you know, to do that.
But we’ve had examples, many examples, of even people younger than you —
Yeah, exactly. Who left home.
Of course. So, I mean, just talk us
through, you know, how does it — how do two young women, two teenagers, pluck up the courage
to say to their parents, “Look, we just don’t think that we can stay in this country anymore.”
Yeah. “We’re going to have to embark
on this perilous journey”? Well, I had this idea with
my sister, and then of course my parents said no because it’s a really — it’s really hard
trip. It was 25 days, and so on. And a lot of people died on the way. A lot of people
got stolen. A lot of people, like, some people, like, killed other people because of the money,
and so on, so they can continue. It’s really horrible. It’s war.
So my parents said no. And after that, there was a swimmer, actually, she encouraged me.
She is 15 years old, and she’s the only kid for her mom. And then she went along with
her cousins, actually. And then I went to my dad. I was, like, “Look, dad, if you’ll
not let me go, I’m just gonna to go.” Because staying there is, like, doing everything,
doing school, doing swimming, but I know that there was no future for me anymore there.
And also sometimes my mom would call me from the middle of the way, “Yeah, you have to
go back. No training today.” And then I’m like, “Why?” And then, “You would know when
you’re home.” And then I was back home, “Yeah, there was a bomb attack” or something.
Sometimes I would swim and then there’s a bomb or something in the pool, and then you
have to go out, and so on, and so on. So I knew I couldn’t stay there anymore. It’s my
country but I can’t stay anymore. You had to realize your personal
ambitions — Exactly.
Of wanting to become an Olympian Exactly. champion.
Yeah, I had in my mind that I can do that, and I can do a lot of stuff,
and then the good stuff, again, to my country. Not being there doing nothing.
So you then decided with Sarah, your sister —
Yeah. Then my dad said that, “Yeah, find someone I trust and then I can
send you.” And then we immediately, like, found people. We found his friend and two
cousins of him. And then, yeah, we told him about that, and then we did the trip with
them. Yeah. Wonderful. And then you arrived,
and you’ve settled in Germany and Berlin now. Yeah.
And you’re learning German. so you add that to your list of languages,
Arabic and English. And you’re going to be going to be leaving here to go back to school,
aren’t you Yeah.
in Berlin. And so then six months after you and Sarah
made it to Berlin, your father, your mother, and your little sister, who is nine, also
joined you — Yeah.
in Germany. Yeah.
So it’s wonderful that your family have found the stability and the safety Yeah.
that you clearly are all appreciating now. But it’s also wonderful,
Yusra Mardini, that you have not forgotten the many, many desperate people who are either
still living in a very, very fragile war-like situation
That’s right. or, indeed, thinking of
embarking on a perilous journey. So we thank you.
Thank you so much.