Six Moments In Netflix’s ‘The Swimmers’ That Are Common Among Refugees

Syrian refugee and Olympic athlete, Yusra Mardini.
Olympic swimmer and Syrian refugee, Yursa Mardini

The Swimmers is more than the true story of Yusra Mardini, an Olympic athlete and Syrian refugee. It’s the story of many refugees united by sacrifice, loss, rejection and a harrowing journey. 

Since 2021, approximately one million people have become refugees to escape war, violence, and persecution, which brings the global number of refugees to 27.1 million. 

When I watched The Swimmers, I saw many shared experiences among Yusra’s story, my family’s flee from Cuba, my colleagues who have escaped war, and of course, the incredible communities Anera works with in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine

Below are six moments in Netflix’s The Swimmers that are common among many refugees. While this list is not comprehensive, as every refugee story is complex and individually unique, the film can offer insight into the journey of displaced persons.

1. Before seeking refuge, life is normal

What does an average day look like for you? Does it involve going to school? Spending time with friends? Perhaps practicing your favorite sport? Before someone seeks refuge, their life may look very similar to yours. Violence, conflict, and displacement rob people of these everyday experiences. 

2. The journey to safety starts with goodbyes

When you become a refugee, you have to say goodbye to the places and people you love. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers and so many others who have a profound impact on us. In 2021 alone, 21,000 children applied for asylum, alone in a new country with no parent or guardian.

3. Transportation is often risky and dangerous

Because many refugees cannot simply hop on a plane and enter another country, most are forced to pursue risky and expensive routes of escape. In the past year, more than 3,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, often in inflatable boats, to get to countries such as Greece.

4. Accepting help from others is a gamble

While good people who want to help refugees exist, there are some who will exploit the needs of refugees for money and will exert force to get their way. Human trafficking, rape, and other forms of violence are common experiences for refugees, which disproportionately impacts women (one in five women refugees experience sexual violence).

5. Living quarters are overcrowded

4.5 million people live in refugee camps or temporary residential spaces. While there, they may wait for asylum or their right to return home safely. These spaces can be crowded, have little privacy and can be unsanitary. Palestinian refugee camps have existed for over 70 years! They were originally built to be temporary, but they still house thousands of Palestinians in overcrowded conditions with poor infrastructure.

6. Not everyone is welcoming

Under international law, refugees cannot be sent back to their home countries if their life or freedom are at risk. However, that does not mean governments are always welcoming. Refugees can experience severe curtailments on their rights in their host countries, including restriction of movement, limited access to labor markets and medical care, and excessive police force. 

As the global refugee crisis grows, so must our understanding of the refugee experience. Following the first-person stories of refugees is a great place to start. 


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