Why Did Sara Mardini Stop Swimming? Why Was She Arrested?

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Netflix’s biographical film ‘The Swimmers’ revolves around Sara Mardini and Yusra Mardini, two Syrian sisters who embark on a dangerous journey to Germany from their home country in the wake of the Syrian civil war. Sara and Yusra, who are also two professional swimmers, swim across the Aegean Sea to enter mainland Europe. The two sisters eventually end up in Germany, where they restart their swimming training under the supervision of coach Sven Spannenkrebs. In reality, Yusra fulfilled her ambition to become an Olympian by participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics but Sara eventually quit swimming. If you are eager to know about the reasons behind the same and her arrest, you are at the right place!

Why Did Sara Mardini Stop Swimming?

Even in their childhood, both Sara and Yusra Mardini wanted to become Olympians. When the Syrian civil war threatened their lives, they realized that ending up in Germany would be the best way to survive and fulfill their ambitions. They had to swim over three hours just to reach Lesbos, a Greek island, from a Turkey shore. Swimming was an integral part of Sara’s life but she eventually had to put an end to the same due to a shoulder injury. When Yusra got an opportunity to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics as part of the Refugee Olympic Team, she wanted Sara to join her team but the latter had stopped swimming by then.

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“You know why I stopped. Because I couldn’t swim anymore. My injury. My shoulders hurt too bad,” Sara told Yusra, as per Yusra’s autobiography ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph.’ However, the shoulder injury wasn’t the only reason behind Sara’s decision to stop swimming. As per reports, she was in “physical and emotional pain” after settling in Germany and the latter influenced her decision to put an end to her professional swimming career.

The journey from Syria to Germany and the difficulties Sara had to endure throughout the migration must have affected her severely. The traumas of the same, being separated from her father Ezzat Mardini, mother Mervat Mardini, and her youngest sister, and witnessing the plights of refugees like her must have further affected Sara as well. After quitting swimming, Sara seemingly realized that her priority is to help the refugees who end up on the Lesbos shore like herself. She then became a part of an NGO and returned to Lesbos to help refugees.

Why Was Sara Mardini Arrested?

After the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sara became a part of Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), an NGO that offered translation and other services to refugees arriving on Lesbos. In 2018, Greek authorities arrested Sara along with ERCI’s field director Nassos Karakitsos and a German volunteer named Seán Binder. She got reportedly charged with smuggling, forgery, espionage, unlawful use of radio frequencies, disclosure of state secrets, and fraud charges. As per the Greek police statement, Sara and her colleagues were “active in the systematic facilitation of illegal entrance of foreigners.” Sara was imprisoned for 107 days and eventually got bailed out.

Image Credit: TEDx Talks/YouTube

Ever since her arrest, Sara has been maintaining that she is innocent. “I was arrested because basically, I was, every night on the [Lesbos] shoreline, handing over water and blankets and translating for the refugees arriving,” she said in a TED interview. Amnesty International joined several humanitarian organizations to support Sara and her colleagues by describing the arrests as “unfair and baseless.” The trial against her and her group started in Greece in November 2021 and is currently ongoing. She appeared before a Greek court in November 2022 to maintain that she is innocent. If found guilty, Sara will be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

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