Yusra, 18, told of her ordeal escaping Syria and the how she had had to swim for her life. Only a year later, thanks to the Refugee Olympic Team, she was sharing a pool with Olympic champion Michael Phelps amongst others in Rio. Her full speech is available here in our video.
President Obama, who had invited Yusra to open his “Leaders’ Conference” on refugees, started his address to the General Assembly by saying: “Yusra, we could not be prouder of you -- not just for the great introduction, but more importantly, for your courage and your resilience and the great example that you're setting for children everywhere, including your eight-year-old sister, who I know must look up to you.”
From Syria to BrazilYusra and her elder sister Sarah, their home in Damascus having been destroyed in the Syrian conflict, had fled the fighting, trekking through camps in Lebanon. They were seeking, like thousands of other Syrians, to make a new life in Europe by making the treacherous sea crossing in an inadequate boat from Turkey to Greece. The engine failed in the darkness and the dinghy started taking on water as Yusra, a talented swimmer who had competed for Syria at the 2012 World Championships, realised they could all drown. She plunged in with Sarah and two others to push the vessel towards land on the Greek island of Lesbos.
The 18 year-old's extraordinary journey finally ended with her reaching Berlin, where she was able to resume her swimming career and was invited to join the Refugee Olympic Team along with nine other fellow refugees. She competed in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly in Rio.
The first-ever Refugee Olympic TeamAt the United Nations (UN) General Assembly back in October 2015, confronted with the global refugee crisis that has seen an estimated 65.3 million people in the world displaced, IOC President Thomas Bach announced the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team to take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Ten months on from the announcement, the 10 athletes, who originally hail from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were competing alongside the all NOCs in Brazil.
President Bach said how pleased he was to see how athletes from around the world welcomed the members of the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio: “They were treated like rock stars. This is really Olympic solidarity at its best,” he said, adding that the IOC would continue to support the refugee athletes and help them integrate into their new homes after the Games.