Review: ‘The Swimmers’ exposes inhumane obstacles Syrian refugees overcome


Photo credit: Netflix Promotional Image

The Mardini sisters, two gifted swimmers, play in the ocean during sunset. Netflix released the film Nov. 23. The film highlights the Syrian refugee crisis through the Mardini sisters’ story.

By Surya Patil, Sports Editor

The Syrian civil war is an ongoing conflict that started March 15, 2011. According to The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, there have been more than 306,000 civilian casualties. According to UNICEF, there are still currently 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees and an additional 21.1 million Syrian refugees in need of urgent assistance. 

Based on an inspiring true story, The Swimmers follows the lives of two Syrian sisters, Sarah and Ysura, who swam for the Syrian national team. The film documents their highly dangerous and uncertain journey fleeing Syria in hopes of receiving asylum in Germany to escape Syria’s civil war. 

Netflix released “The Swimmers” Nov. 23, 2022, and the film received a 81% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sarah Mardini and Ysura Mardini grew up in Darayya, Syria, and lived in a house with their mother, father and younger sister. Their father, a retired professional swimmer, was their swimming coach and trained them from the beginning of their careers until they left Syria. 

At the start of the film, bombing and civil unrest is something the Mardini sisters only hear of on the radio and witness on television. However, by 2015, the situation in Syria severely escalates. The corrupt government imposes a harsh curfew enforced by a violent police force known as the Syrian Public Security Police. A shocking scene shows the two sisters partying and dancing, while in the background bombs loudly go off. This scene reflects how common mass bombing was in Syria and how normal it still is for citizens to experience violence and bombing firsthand.

Ysura Mardini’s lifelong dream was to swim in the Olympics. Similarly, her father’s childhood dream was to represent Syria in the Olympics, a dream he was unable to fulfill because he was conscripted into Syria’s military at the age of 18.

One of the film’s central themes is determination. Ysura’s determination, in even the worst of conditions, to continue swimming and eventually fulfill her dream of competing in the Olympics is nothing short of extraordinary. Though the tone and subject matter of the film is very heavy, the sisters’ spirits are uplifting and inspire viewers to chase their dreams regardless of their difficult situations.

During the sisters qualifying meet for the Syrian national team, a bomb landed right outside of the pool building. Ysura was in the water when a second dud bomb landed inside of the pool. This suspenseful and dramatic moment set the solemn tone for the remainder of the film.

After Ysura’s near-death experience, her father gives the sisters a sum of money to escape Syria with their cousin Nizar and seek refuge.

The film perfectly depicts the Mardinis’ unbelievable path to freedom as they overcome inconceivable challenges, including swimming 3 and a half hours consecutively to cross the Aegean Sea.

As the film unfolds, the depth of the Syrian refugee crisis is revealed to viewers. Powerful images of large numbers of refugees and the interactions the sisters have with other refugees uncover a common theme of struggle and hardship. For me, the film was a wake up call to the mass suffering in our world and left me researching what organizations I could get involved with to spread awareness about this humanitarian crisis. 

The film plays with depth using a combination of close-up, focused and longer illustrative shots to portray the wide range of emotions the Mardini sisters feel throughout their escape. These filming techniques help to humanize the refugee crisis and make viewers think about refugees as individuals and not simply as a large number. The film’s use of repetition, such as the seemingly neverending lines of refugees at the refugee camps, puts into perspective the number of Syrians escaping Syria and highlights the diversity of refugee stories.

During their extremely unpredictable path to Germany, the sisters’ bravery and inner strength is a common trait shared with the millions of other refugees. The sisters, along with the other refugees, were deprived of basic necessities during their journey for sometimes days at a time. This powerful retelling of the Mardini sisters’ story serves as reminder of my privilege as well as the importance of practicing gratuity.

This incredibly impactful film illustrates the grim realities refugees face and opens viewers’ eyes to the global refugee crisis.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact


“The Swimmers” tells the story of two Syrian refugees who seek a better life in Germany during Syria’s civil war. Based on a true story, this film highlights the global refugee crisis through the lens of the Mardini sisters, two swimmers who swam for the Syrian national team.