The year of the migrant: Ysra’s story

During the past year VRT's Steven Decraene has been reporting on the refugee crisis across Europe. In a short series of articles he now introduces us to three of the many inspiring people he met.

In 2015, more than one million migrants crossed into Europe by sea or land. According to the International Organisation for Migration most of them crossed by sea. 800,000 refugees travelled from Turkey to Greece with half of that number coming from Syria.

I have been reporting on these people in Greece, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Men, women and children fleeing from war, poverty and misery. They came from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan but also from Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria. All of them are dreaming of a better future, all of them are full of hope and high expectations. I will always remember three young asylum seekers I encountered this year on my assignments. Their spirit and courage, even if they are uncertain about their personal future, may serve as an example to all of us.


It’s the end of August, somewhere on a town square in the Serbian capital Belgrade. Ysra is playing a kind of card game with her sister and some friends around her tent. A week earlier, she had been swimming three and a half hours in the sea, just to get from Turkey to Greece. She left Syria without her parents. Barely 17 years old, had Ysra already made the journey of her life. A few weeks later, I met Ysra again in Vienna. She was sheltering from the blustering winds in a hamburger restaurant, but perhaps even more important there was Wi-Fi in the restaurant. She sent some messages to her parents, telling them she was ready for the last trip from Austria to Germany. Eventually, in mid-September Ysra arrived at a refugee centre in Berlin.

Three months later, Ysra has registered in a German swimming club. Her last training session in Damascus dated from June. Ysra is determined to compete in one of the next Olympic Games as a professional swimmer. Her new coach can’t stress enough how pleased he is with her efforts and results. Ysra is now learning German as there is no need to improve her English. In a special note to all Belgians, Ysra wants to thank everyone who has sent her and her sister encouraging messages on Facebook and Instagram. “It really helped me to stay motivated and push on,” she writes.

Ysra is very hopeful for next year. Her parents are now on their way to join her in Germany. At present they are held up in Greece, but the chances for a family reunion seem to be very likely. For the moment, Ysra and her sister don’t suffer from the hardships other refugees experience such as abuse and violence within some centers or the outcry of German right-wing supporters. “I will never give up,” Ysra tells me, “even if I don’t succeed at first, I will try and try again. You always have to fight for your dreams.” These words may sound hollow when spoken by someone else, but this young lady sure knows what she wants.