How swimming lessons change the lives of refugee children

When Hanan Elias Abdo looked over the side of the rubber boat into the deep blue sea, she could make out two large shapes, moving at speed. Were those dolphins? Or sharks? “Did you see the fishes?” she shouted at her siblings.

Six-year-old Sulin, the youngest, was lying at the bottom of the boat, pinned to the floor by the limbs and bodies of 50 other people who had been piled at gunpoint into the 6m-long inflatable dinghy now precariously drifting across choppy Mediterranean waters. Had her sister said “fishes”? Sulin could barely make out Hanan’s voice amid the screams of the other passengers, rising and falling with each wave.

Sulin was lying on top of a thin patch on the boat’s floor and could feel the water moving underneath her. At home, in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq, she had never more than splashed through an ankle-deep brook. What if the floor gave way and she got pushed into the bottomless depths? What, she thought, if the fishes started nibbling at her feet?

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