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The True Story Behind Netflix’s The Swimmers


Film producers have been lining up in 2016 to safe rights to the life story {of professional} swimmers Yusra and Sara Mardini, however the sisters turned down a number of provides. The siblings have been recognized for his or her exceptional story of survival and heroism, however after fleeing Syria’s ongoing civil battle only one 12 months earlier, they weren’t but prepared for the world to see it on display.

Throughout their journey, the sisters arrived in Turkey on a aircraft and hoped to succeed in Germany through Greece on a ship. They went up towards the chilling waves of the Aegean Sea, when the motor on the overcrowded dinghy carrying 18 different asylum seekers all of the sudden stalled. The Mardini sisters jumped into the water with out hesitating, grabbed maintain of the ropes together with two different passengers, and used their lifelong swimming abilities to tug everybody to security. That day, their 45-minute boat experience became a three-and-a-half-hour swim.

“I mentioned no as a result of I needed to give attention to the Olympics. It had been a dream of mine since I used to be 9 years outdated, so I needed to take pleasure in each single little bit of it,” remembers Yusra, now 24, who was gearing as much as take part at Rio’s 2016 Summer season Olympics as a part of the first-ever refugee crew. “Some producer mentioned nobody goes to have an interest within the story after Rio and I instructed them ‘That’s OK, I’m right here to swim,’” she provides.

That producer was flawed. On Nov. 23, the Mardini sisters’ story lastly hits the display as The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini, arrives on Netflix.


Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini, Manal Issa as Sara Mardini, Ahmed Malek as Nizar

Laura Radford/Netflix

What occurs in The Swimmers?

The movie follows 17-year-old Yusra and 20-year-old Sara (performed by Nathalie and Manal Issa, respectively) of their easy life in Daraya, Damascus, earlier than it was disrupted by the escalation of Syria’s civil battle. What started as peaceable, pro-democracy demonstrations towards President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 escalated right into a full-scale battle when the federal government met dissidents with lethal drive. Earlier than this, the sisters participated in swim classes with teaching from their father, partied with pals, and hung out with their mother and father, youthful sister, and chook Lulu (a stand-in for his or her real-life cat.)

As the consequences of battle change into tougher to keep away from, Sara convinces her household that she and Yusra, together with their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek), ought to embark on a journey to Germany, the place a few of their pals have fled to. Their plan is to use for household reunification, which might permit the remainder of their household to affix them, earlier than Yusra turns 18. After a treacherous journey involving social stigma from disapproving European residents and corrupt smugglers, the trio arrive in Berlin the place they change into refugees. There, a assured Yusra barges into a neighborhood swimming membership, boasting her occasions, and beneficial properties sponsorship by coach Sven, who trains her to affix the first-ever refugee crew on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I watched the movie for the primary time with my sister and we have been crying after which laughing after which crying once more,” remembers Yusra. “They did an incredible job. The 2 ladies who performed us have been actual sisters from Lebanon in order that they understood our background.”

“The movie was a reminder of how robust our relationship was and the way we have been tremendous shut,” says Sara, now 27, including that she and Yusra went on completely different paths after they arrived in Germany. Yusra continued knowledgeable sporting profession and in addition turned the youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N refugee company in April 2017, whereas Sara returned to Greece in August 2016 to supply life-saving support to different refugees.

Manal Issa in 'The Swimmers' (Ali Güler/Netflix)

Manal Issa in ‘The Swimmers’

Ali Güler/Netflix

What did Yusra and Sara’s journey from Syria to Germany actually seem like?

It took Yusra and Sara 25 days to get from Syria to Germany, with the primary portion of their journey happening through flights then by boat to Greece. “Then it was by foot, we walked, used buses, taxis, no matter we might use,” says Yusra.

Recalling essentially the most taxing a part of their journey, once they swam within the Aegean Sea for over three hours, Sara says she considered completely nothing. “I used to be scared to die, however I felt like somebody needed to do it to make the boat lighter,” she remembers. Yusra remembers that her thoughts was additionally clean once they have been making an attempt to stabilize the boat as a result of she was too targeted on surviving to consider anything.

The sisters additionally skilled a variety of anti-migrant prejudice and discrimination in Europe and initially struggled to embrace the time period “refugee”: “Folks have been treating you as when you’ve got some form of illness, such as you’re not human,” says Sara.

Learn Extra: Discovering Dwelling: A 12 months within the Lifetime of Syrian Refugees

However one joyful facet of being a refugee was belonging to a various neighborhood that regarded out for each other. Sara says there have been as many as 30 folks in Turkey ready to cross the waters and so they turned a “massive household,” including that they slept on a rotation system to maintain one another protected.

Laura Radford/Netflix

What do Yusra and Sara need folks to remove from their life story?

After witnessing folks’s shock when she doesn’t match their stereotype of a downtrodden refugee, Yusra desires to problem the concept refugee identification is a monolith. She additionally hopes the movie counters the misperception that folks flee their nation as a result of they wish to benefit from the assets of their host nation: “It’s not an expensive life, it’s a must to fill out a lot paperwork, some folks fall into melancholy, some will not be accepted by their host societies—they’ve to depart behind every part they know.” She desires viewers to keep in mind that small acts of kindness towards determined folks go a great distance.

In the meantime, Sara hopes folks understand that single male refugees, very similar to their cousin Nizar, have it “10 occasions tougher” than girls or kids. “They’re the final ones to be checked or to be taken care of” however they’re typically vilified within the media, she says. She can be redeemed by the concept folks will see that her half of the story is equally legitimate and fearless, after years of being outlined as Yusra’s sister—as a result of Olympian’s excessive profile after she gained the opening warmth of the 100m butterfly with a time of 1 minute and 9.21 seconds in 2016.

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini and Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in 'The Swimmers' (Laura Radford/Netflix)

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini and Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in ‘The Swimmers’

Laura Radford/Netflix

The place are the Mardini sisters now and what’s subsequent for them?

Rising up, the Mardini sisters say they have been so hooked up on the hip that they have been extra like twins, however now they’re on completely different paths and even continents. Yusra returned to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics final 12 months; she certified for crew Syria however nonetheless selected to be on the refugee crew, and he or she is at the moment learning movie and tv manufacturing in California.

She can be persevering with her U.N ambassadorship, which she says includes on-the-ground work at refugee camps, in addition to advocating at high-level occasions: “I’ll inform my story one million occasions till I see change,” says Yusra.

In the meantime, Sara, who remains to be enthusiastic about swimming for enjoyment, has had a tempestuous few years working with a refugee support group in Lesbos, which led to her and two colleagues being arrested by Greek authorities in 2018. The fees introduced towards the three staff have been on suspicion of trafficking and smuggling migrants into Greece, in addition to spying and cash laundering. Sara spent 107 days in jail earlier than she was launched on bail. Sara says they solely acquired an English translation of their case file in November, and final week she was capable of return to a Greek courthouse to submit a memo stating that they nonetheless consider they’re harmless.

Whereas the trio await their January court docket date, Sara is again in Berlin and eager to give attention to her psychological well being and at last be taught German correctly: ”I wish to work on it and hopefully return to high school.” The remainder of the Mardini household crossed the ocean to Europe in 2016 and so they now reside in Berlin. Sara says they haven’t returned to go to Syria but however they hope to do it collectively. “It’s a brand new starting,” she concludes.

Extra Should-Reads From TIME


Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com.

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