Is Netflix’s The Swimmers a true story? Real events 2022 movie is based on, who are Yusra and Sara Mardini

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Netflix drama The Swimmers tells the incredible story of two refugee sisters who helped to save more than a dozen lives at sea

New Netflix drama film The Swimmers is an emotional biopic about two sisters from Syria who travelled to Europe as refugees, risking their lives in a perilous crossing from Turkey to Greece.

The film tells the refugee experience, with input from the sisters, showing the grim reality of what it is like to flee a war torn country and seek shelter abroad. Following the nearly fatal crossing of the Aegean, one of the sisters went on to compete in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. This is everything you need to know about The Swimmers and Yusra and Sara Mardini:

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The Swimmers is the true story of two refugee sistersThe Swimmers is the true story of two refugee sisters
The Swimmers is the true story of two refugee sisters | LAURA RADFORD/NETFLIX

What is The Swimmers about?

The Swimmers follows two sisters, Yusra and Sara Mardini as they flee their home country of Syria in 2015 during the bloody civil war. The sisters travel through Lebanon to Turkey and plan to be smuggled into Greece on a dinghy.

When, in the middle of the Aegean, the engine on their overcrowded dinghy fails, they and two others are faced with saving the lives of the other refugees on board. Following their harrowing experience, the sisters go on to compete in swimming events at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Is The Swimmers a true story?

Yes, the film is based on a true story - Sara, Yusra’s father was a swimming coach and they grew up swimming at their local pool in Damascus. Yusra competed for Syria in Dubai and Turkey in the world championships.

When the civil war broke out in 2011 everything changed for their sisters - their father was tortured after being mistaken for someone else, their house was destroyed by bombing, and an unexploded bomb landed in the pool where Yusra trained.

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The family decided that Yusra and Sara should travel to Europe where they would be safer - after reaching Turkey, they boarded a boat designed to carry seven people, but there were 18 on board. During the journey to Greece, the boat’s motor cut out and the vessel began to take on water.

Manal Issa as Sara MardiniManal Issa as Sara Mardini
Manal Issa as Sara Mardini | ALI GÜLER/NETFLIX

With no other option the sisters, and two others on the boat who were able to swim jumped out and swam alongside the boat, keeping it afloat - all the travellers made it safely to the Greek island of Lesbos, about 7.5 miles from the Turkish coast.

Despite reaching safety in Europe, this was only the start of the sisters’ miraculous journey. They made their way to Germany where they stayed at a refugee centre, and there they met the coach of a local swim club.

They began training at the club and Yusra gained a spot on the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sara stopped swimming after reaching Germany because of a shoulder injury that she sustained.

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What happened at the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Yusra competed in the 100 metres freestyle and the 100 metres butterfly - she won a 100m butterfly heat against four other swimmers, with a time of 1:09.21, ranking 41st out of 45 entrants.

She also competed in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (which were held in 2021 because of the Covid pandemic), carrying the flag of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team in the opening ceremony. She swam a time of 1:06.78 in the women’s 100m butterfly heats.

Are Yusri and Sara Mardini in The Swimmers?

Sara doesn’t feature in the film but both she and Yusra were involved in the production and the film is accurate to their experiences. The pair are played by real life sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa. Yusra features as the stunt double for her own character in the film.

The film also features many refugees in the cast - director Sally El Hosaini told Forbes: “We actually cast a lot of refugees in the movie who had taken the same journey themselves and there were refugees working on the film behind the scenes and all of that helped to make sure that we were telling the story the right way.”

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