Geneva (AFP) – The UN said Thursday it had enlisted Yusra Mardini, the teenage Olympic swimmer who braved a Mediterranean crossing in a leaky dinghy fleeing war-torn Syria, to help raise awareness about the plight of refugees.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said it had appointed Mardini as its newest Goodwill Ambassador, a role long famously held by US movie star Angelina Jolie.
Mardini “has become a powerful voice for the forcibly displaced across the world and a powerful example of their resilience and determination to rebuild lives and positively contribute to host communities,” UNHCR said in a statement.
The 19-year-old’s story is indeed inspiring. In 2015, like millions of others, she fled her home in war-ravaged Syria.
During a perilous journey to the Greek island of Lesbos on board a packed dinghy, the engine failed and the craft began taking on water.
Mardini and her sister jumped into the sea, grabbed a rope and spent the next three-and-a-half hours in the choppy water towing the boat to safety.
Mardini, who has settled in Germany with her family, went on to take part in the first ever Olympic refugee team at the Rio de Janeiro games last year.
“Yusra is a deeply inspiring young woman,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said.
She added that the Syrian teen “represents the hopes, the fears and the incredible potential of the more than ten million young refugees around the globe.”
Mardini herself said she was thrilled with her appointment.
“I could not be more proud to be part of this team,” Mardini told reporters in Geneva.
“There is no shame in being a refugee if we remember who we are,” she said.
“I am a refugee and I’m proud to stand for peace, for decency and dignity for all those fleeing violence.”