Swim England

A nation swimming

Eid Aljazairli admits swimming helps him feel 'free' and not judged or 'titled'

Eid Aljazairli admits that swimming and being in the water helps him feel ‘free’ and provides a place where he isn’t judged or ‘titled’.

As part of the England Swims campaign, the national governing body for aquatics, Swim England, is sharing stories of individuals, their perceptions of the sector and any barriers they face to participation in water-based activity.

Eid is a refugee who fled Syria and moved to the UK back in 2018. He lived in a YMCA hostel in London and grew a passion for swimming after accidentally stumbling upon videos of Michael Phelps.

From that day, Eid says ‘the dream was born’ as he has his sights set on competing for the refugee Olympic team at Paris 2024.

When he arrived in the UK, Eid had no money and has predominantly taught himself how to swim, whilst also securing a few free lessons along the way.

Recalling his experiences in Syria, he said: “When I was back home in Syria, I had never swam in my life.

“I used to go to the pool with my friends just to chill, sit around, have fun – I never had any swimming lessons in Syria.

“It’s not popular as much as it is in England. All my brothers and my friends, we never really had any lessons.

I used to get very scared in the water

“From my experience, when I start to see the people here in the UK, all the families put their children in lessons and it’s very common here. We don’t have this in our culture.

“I really wish swimming in Syria or in the Arabic countries was more popular.”

As well as having not learned to swim, Eid also developed a fear of the water whilst fleeing from his home country.

“When I was coming from Syria to the UK, when I was crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece, I literally almost died,” he added.

“The first time when we were trying to take the boat from Turkey to Greece, after two hours the boat broke and I wasn’t able to swim.

“Obviously I had a life jacket, but I was holding a piece of wood from the boat. I got to a point where I thought ‘I didn’t die in Syria but am I really going to die here?’

“So I stayed in the water holding the piece of wood for two or three hours and in the end I was so lucky because the Turkish police, they were in a massive ship and they found me and brought me back to Turkey.

“But the fear of being in the sea, I’ve never seen it in my whole life. I remember on the boat, every single time a wave hit the boat we were two or three metres in the air.

“So the water became a fear and I used to get very scared when I was in water.”

You really have your freedom

To overcome his fear of the water and go on to learn to swim and become a competitive swimmer, Eid’s achievements are nothing short of astounding.

He says swimming helped him mentally and socially following his move to the UK and explained the support and togetherness he has felt from the swimming community.

Eid said: “People really care about your background, where you came from, what’s your colour etc – I haven’t seen this in the pool.

“Nobody calls me a refugee, nobody calls me an asylum seeker. They maybe ask me where I’m from because I’ve got a different accent to them but you’re not going to be titled there, you’re just going to be free.

“You really have your freedom. No racism, nothing, just freedom. You put your goggles on and your hat on and you would be treated as any other swimmer.

“Every single time I’m in the water I feel free. I’m in the lane, I’m alone – it’s like another world for me. The water is my best place when I really want to chill and want to feel at peace.

“Swimming also helps you so much with your mental health. I was very lonely when I came from Syria, I had no friends or family, and I met amazing people.

“You speak to them, you communicate and this all helps your mental health. You’re making friends, you’re going out and all these sorts of things.”