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The new hit Netflix movie, The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini, tells the inspirational story of two sisters who left war-torn Syria to go on a harrowing journey to escape their country's violent civil war.
At one point, the sisters, Sara and Yusra Mardini, even had to swim through the Aegean Sea for hours on end. The movie then follows Yusra's Olympic journey as she joins a refugee swim team to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The movie is based on a true story. Sara and Yusra really did flee Syria with other refugees, as Yusra explains in her autobiography, Butterfly. The movie also includes some pretty intense (real) moments, like the aforementioned point when Yusra and Sara jump out of their overcrowded boat full of refugees in the Aegean Sea and swam for more than three hours to help everyone reach land safely.
It’s understandable to have questions about the family these two sisters left behind in Syria. So, who are the Mardinis and where are they now? Here’s what you need to know.
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Their father was a swimmer growing up.
Sara and Yusra's father, Ezzat Mardini, also grew up swimming, like his daughters. And, as the movie shows, he served as their swim coach until they left Syria. At the time, the family lived in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, in Syria, according to The Guardian.
His experiences in their home country were also part of the reason the girls left Syria. At one point, Ezzat was taken away and tortured after he was mistaken for someone else. In 2015, he and his wife, Mervat, decided that their eldest daughters needed to live someplace else, per The Guardian.
Yusra says that life carried on as normal, until the fighting reached her hometown. “I just kept swimming and going to school, trying to be a normal kid,” she told Vogue.
They have another sister named Shaed.
Sara and Yusra have a younger sister named Shaed, who is shown in the movie as just a little girl who stays behind with her parents when her sisters leave Syria.
Shaed and her parents ended up joining Sara and Yusra when they reached Berlin, Germany. Shaed is a teen now, and was living with her mother in an apartment in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf neighborhood as of 2017, per Vogue. (Ezzat lives nearby.)
Their mother used to be a physiotherapist.
Strong. Magazine for Girls shares this factoid in an interview with Yusra, who was in 7th grade when protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad started.
It's unclear if Mervat is still practicing these days, though.
Is their cousin Nizar a real person?
In the movie, the girls travel with their male cousin, Nizar. Unfortunately, he’s not a real person, but he’s based on real people who are related to the sisters.
For one, Yusra and Sara really did leave Syria with two of their cousins. However, the movie depicts this part of the journey through the fictionalized form of Nizar.
In fact, the character is specifically based off of the sisters’ real cousin, Nabih, according to Digital Spy.
Where is the real Mardini family now?
It seems that some of the extended family is still together in Germany. Ezzat has shared several posts on Instagram about the movie, along with pictures of some members of his family.
After arriving in Berlin, Ezzat actually started coaching swimming again, and his Facebook profile says that he works at Berliner Bäder-Betriebe as a coach, per The Cinemaholic.
As of 2017, Mervat was still living in Germany, but it's unclear if she is still there and why lives apart from her husband. It's also unclear what she has been doing lately because she doesn't have much of a social media presence.
Sara was arrested by Greek authorities in 2018 while working with a refugee aid org, facing charges of spying as well as trafficking and smuggling migrants into the country, and she spent 107 days in prison before being released on bail, per TIME. Sara has a court date in January, the outlet says, and maintains her innocence. Amnesty International has since called the charges are “trumped up” and “farcical,” but Sara could face a possible prison sentence.
She seems to be in Germany now, per an August Instagram post:
Yusra, on the other hand, recently shared that she’s attending the University of Southern California as a film and TV production student. Now 24, she has continued working with the United Nations, helping out with refugee camps and advocacy, telling TIME, “I will tell my story a million times until I see change."
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Following this, they travelled on foot, by bus and train through Greece, the Balkans, Hungary and Austria to Germany, where they settled in Berlin in September 2015. Their parents and younger sister later also fled Syria and were granted political asylum in Germany.Where is the Mardini family now? ›
While the trio await their January court date, Sara is back in Berlin and keen to focus on her mental health and finally learn German properly: ”I want to work on it and hopefully go back to school.” The rest of the Mardini family crossed the sea to Europe in 2016 and they now live in Berlin.Where are the Mardini sisters now? ›
But saga of Sarah, one of two Syrian sisters who helped rescue 18 refugees in 2015 by dragging their overcrowded, sinking dinghy to the Greek island of Lesbos, is far from over. The 27-year-old athlete, trained in swimming from a young age with her sister Yusra by their father, now lives in Berlin, Germany.Did The Swimmers family get out of Syria? ›
INSKEEP: "The Swimmers" is based on the real-life story of Syrian sisters who fled their country. Sara and Yusra Mardini became refugees, took a boat to Europe, and one of them, Yusra, did reach the Olympics afterward.Does Yusra Mardini live in Germany? ›
Yusra Mardini is not only a professional swimmer, but also an encourager for millions of refugees around the world. She comes from Syria, where her career as a swimmer began under her father's training. In 2015, Yusra came to Germany as a refugee herself, along with her sister Sara.What happened to The Swimmers family? ›
Shaed and her parents ended up joining Sara and Yusra when they reached Berlin, Germany. Shaed is a teen now, and was living with her mother in an apartment in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf neighborhood as of 2017, per Vogue. (Ezzat lives nearby.)Are Yusra Mardini parents in Germany? ›
Yusra Mardini has already participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics by this point. The same year, her parents and sister joined her & Sara in Berlin. What is this? According to Vogue, Mervat and Shaed Mardini reside with Yusra in her Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf area apartment, while Ezzat Mardini resides nearby.Is the Mardini family still in Syria? ›
The Mardini sisters left Damascus, Syria's capital, in August 2015, and they travelled via Lebanon, Turkey and Greece to reach Berlin in September that year. The pair still live in the city alongside the rest of their family, who were able to join them in the German capital.Where is Ezzat Mardini now? ›
After arriving in Berlin, Ezzat actually started coaching swimming again, and his Facebook profile says that he works at Berliner Bäder-Betriebe as a coach, per The Cinemaholic.Are the Mardini sisters real? ›
Real-life sisters Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa portray Yusra Mardini and her sister Sara, who used their swimming skills to save lives. Yusra eventually went on to compete in the 2016 Tokyo Olympics with the Refugee Olympic Team, while Sara focused on humanitarian work.
The sisters eventually reached Germany, where they met Sven Spannekrebs, the man who would become Yusra's swim coach.Who are the real swimming sisters in Syria? ›
The sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini fled Syria as refugees in 2015. While crossing the Aegean Sea, their dinghy's engine broke. Along with two others who could swim, they saved the lives of those on board by swimming alongside the dinghy. Their story has been made into a film on Netflix called “The Swimmers”.Where are the sisters from the movie swimmers now? ›
After seeking asylum in Germany, Yusra began swimming again and was selected for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Now a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, she shares her story with audiences around the world to demonstrate the determination of refugees to achieve their dreams despite facing trauma, hardship, and loss.Who are the swimming sisters on Netflix? ›
In 2015, sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini flee war-torn Syria for Europe, hoping to fulfill Yusra's dreams of competing in the 2016 Olympics. Real-life sisters Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa star in The Swimmers, which tells the true story of the Mardini sisters' perilous journey. The film premieres on Netflix Nov. 23.How does the swimmer end? ›
The story ends with Neddy pounding on the door and looking in at the windows, realising that the house is completely empty. Perhaps the most significant key to understanding 'The Swimmer' can be found in a comment John Cheever himself made.Was Yusra Mardini a refugee? ›
Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini was appointed the youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in April 2017, aged just 19.How far did the Mardini sisters travel? ›
Mardini and her sister, along with a family friend, continued from Greece to Macedonia, then through Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally into Germany — a 25-day trek that ended in September 2015 in a Berlin refugee camp where they reunited with their father and found a local swimming club to take them in.Why did The Swimmers go to Germany? ›
During a swim competition, the Mardini family is caught in a bombing. They survive, but the traumatic event inspires Yusra and Sara to travel to Germany to apply for asylum.How many refugees came to Germany from Syria? ›
As of December 31, 2022, the total number of Syrians in Germany reached 923,085. Germany's peak number of asylum applicants peaked at 890,000 in 2015, however, the trend began to reverse. In 2018, only 185,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Germany.