Essex

Syrian lecturer in 'symbolic' English Channel swim bid

Zeina Alsharkas
Image caption Zeina Alsharkas says her Channel swim is symbolic of the turmoil with which Syrians live

A Syrian woman who felt "hopeless" in the face of civil war has said she plans to swim the English Channel to share her "voice, hopes and dreams of peace" in her native country.

Zeina Alsharkas, 27, left Syria in 2012 to study for a master's degree in economics at the University of Essex.

She went on to take a PhD and now lectures at the university.

The former national-level swimmer is now training in a bid to cross the 21-mile (34km) Channel in August.

Image caption Zeina Alsharkas regularly swims more than three miles a day

Ms Alsharkas said her journey to the UK was simple compared with most others seeking refuge because she had already been offered a university place.

"I didn't have to go through a dangerous journey to be in the UK," she said. "For me it was natural as I had always wanted to study and continue my education."

She is swimming 5km (3.1 miles) a day, at least four times a week, and gaining weight in a bid to insulate herself from the cold waters of the Channel.

"I feel very lucky and grateful for the opportunities that I've had and to be able to do what I wanted to do," she said.

"But at the same time it was very sad for me to see the less lucky Syrians have to risk their lives to be safe. And also it is very painful to see what is going on in my country.

"I felt very hopeless for years.

"I can't stop the war. But I can swim and by swimming the English Channel and I want to share my voice, hopes and dreams of peace in my country."

Image caption Zeina Alsharkas works as a lecturer at the University of Essex

She said she felt swimming the Channel would be deeply symbolic, with the waves reflecting the emotional turmoil of those fleeing war or persecution and the sea's current representing the forces beyond one's control.

If Ms Alsharkas manages the full solo swim to France not only will she become one of less than 2,000 swimmers to have achieved the feat but she will be welcomed ashore by her sister, Hela, who is currently studying in France.