Syrian refugee Olympic swimmer becomes UNHCR ambassador

  • Swimming
  • Thursday, 27 Apr 2017

FILE PHOTO: Rio Olympics - Olympic Park - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 01/08/2016. Syrian refugee team swimmer Yusra Mardini, 18, from Syria practices at the Olympic swimming venue. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

GENEVA (Reuters) - She escaped the bombs of Syria, and almost drowned when her dinghy capsized off Greece, but Yusra Mardini then competed at the Olympics and has now been appointed a U.N. goodwill ambassador to be a voice for people seeking shelter from war.

Mardini had to swim for hours after capsizing in the Mediterranean with her sister. They saved 20 people who eventually reached the Greek island of Lesbos.

Granted refugee status by Germany, she swam at the Games last August as one of 10 athletes in the first-ever refugee Olympic team which she hopes will become a permanent fixture.

"I am grateful for this opportunity and platform to tell the world that whilst we are young ... we have already experienced horrors, loved and lost homes, friends and family as if we have lived 100 years," Mardini told a news conference on Thursday.

Mardini, 19, is still studying in Berlin, continuing her swimming training two to three hours a day and learning German, but will go soon on a UNHCR mission to Tokyo, venue of the 2020 Summer Games.

"Of course I'm really hoping that in the next Olympics there will be a new refugee Olympic team, and I am sure that all the world is supporting that because it was a really good idea," she said.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements said plans for that were not finalised.

Mardini, whose appearance in Rio served to highlight the refugee crisis to a global audience, said in her new role she wanted to show people: "that refugees are actually humans and normal people also, who can do a lot of things like them."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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