‘I Risked My Life to Protect My Fellow Refugees. Here’s What’s Next for Me.’

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Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN’s Global Goals work to end extreme poverty, with 17 different goals to address issues like poverty, hunger, education, health, and reducing inequalities. Sarah Mardini is one of many activists fighting for human rights around the world, and to achieve a world where everyone is equal, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, age, immigration status, or any other status. Join the movement by taking action here to help achieve the Global Goals, and create a world free of inequality. 

Sarah Mardini is just one of the 6.7 million Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee their country to find a peaceful place to live. 

But, unlike many others, her story captured the attention of newspapers around the world. 

During their journey to Europe in 2015, Sarah, now 23, and her sister Yusra, 21, risked their lives to protect 18 fellow refugees. 

When their boat began sinking in the Mediterranean Sea, the sisters, both of whom are competitive swimmers, jumped into the sea and dragged the boat to safety on the shores of Lesbos. 

Once in Greece, Sarah and her sister continued on the long and dangerous journey through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria, to finally arrive in Germany. In Berlin, they lived in a refugee camp for eight months before successfully claiming asylum. 

Four years later, Sarah found herself being arrested in Greece after helping refugees to reach the country safely. She and other members of a migrant aid group were jailed, facing charges including espionage, violation of state secrecy laws, and criminal enterprise. 

After spending more than 100 days in prison, she is now back in Berlin, studying International Relations, Humanities, and Social Thought at Bard College. This is Sarah’s story.


It’s more than a year now since me and my friend Sean were released on bail after spending more than 100 days in a Greek prison. 

We’re awaiting our trial and face a 25 year jail sentence. My lawyer is optimistic but you never have a 100% guarantee. I still don’t feel entirely free nor safe. 

But when people ask me why I did what I did, I simply say “I just did it because I think I need to do it.” 

This trial has changed my behaviour though. I always had a loud mouth. I spoke up for myself and others, but now I am a bit quieter than I used to be. 

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Back in Syria I might have become a lawyer. I lived in Damascus with my family, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A place where people are a way more welcoming and warm. 

I felt so at home there. People in Syria are workaholics but family is very important for us. Respect is a big thing too. You would never hear a kid saying “Shut up, mom” as you hear in Germany. 

My home is where I am surrounded by people I love. Right now I am based in Berlin. But I don’t interact with Germans a lot. Most of my classmates and friends are from different countries outside of Germany — from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Brazil. 

When I think about politics here in Germany, I do know that they have put some effort into letting many refugees into the country. I got a great chance here but it wasn’t structured enough. The integration failed. 

They thought it’s enough to provide courses for people to learn the language, but that’s not integration. The whole circle and society needs to change. They have to include us in the discussions and solutions. 

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I don’t see myself living in Berlin for years though. I don't have big plans for the future yet, but I know I need to go back to the field. It doesn’t have to be Greece. But the field is where I belong. I am a handy girl. I like to work eye to eye, skin to skin.  

Look around you — every corner of the world has its issues. And it is our fault, our responsibility. We elect the people in charge. We have to make sure to choose wisely. And we also need to empower the youth to choose wisely. They are the future and they need to learn to use their power. 

I consider myself a human, an activist, and a refugee – and I am actually thankful for being a refugee. I understand so much more since I’ve had this experience. There is always a next step and a new chance every day. 

I don’t think a lot about my future but I know that I’ll keep fighting for a world without borders. A world where it doesn't matter where you come from, what the colour of your skin is, or your religion. We are all the same. We have to start believing in this idea. I will always fight for a world where everyone is equal.