A UNIVERSITY lecturer is set to swim the English Channel to help support her compatriots escaping from war torn Syria.

Dr Zeina Alsharkas, who is a lecturer in Economics at the University of Essex, moved to England from Damascus in 2012 to study for her Masters degree.

A former member of the Syrian national swimming team, she plans to take on the 21 mile swim in August.

Dr Alsharkas, 27, hopes her challenge will raise awareness of the plight of Syrians trying to leave the country.

“I am eternally grateful for all the opportunities that I have received here in the UK,” she said.

“But having had this unique chance I can no longer stand idle while those compatriots less lucky than me risk their lives everyday crossing the sea seeking refuge in Europe.

“I cannot stop the war, but I can swim.

“I can share the perils that my people pass through by swimming the English Channel and through it share my dreams, voice, and hopes.

“As symbol of reunification between those Syrian families who have been separated by the war I will swim in the opposite direction from which refugees come to the UK to show the incoherence of war and to send a message of peace.”

Dr Alsharkas did not have to risk her life to come to the UK but remains separated from her loved ones.

She said: “I was separated from my sister for four years until she moved to France one year ago.

“I still have not seen my mum and my dad.

“Swimming to meet my sister in France will represent the efforts and the struggle that all refugees go through to reach their loved ones.”

Swimming is a passion for Dr Alsharkas and she was national champion in 50m and 100m butterfly stroke.

But she gave up the sport for five years while studying for her PhD along with a knee injury and her workload.

She said: “Even during cold mornings in winter when I was nine-years-old, I have never missed a session.

“I felt a big void in my heart and the need to reconnect with my passion for swimming.

“At the beginning, I thought that I would never be able to swim at a level close to what I was before starting my postgraduate degrees.

“Slowly, however, with commitment and determination, my level has begun to improve, and I am now developing my long-distance and open water swimming.”

Dr Alsharkas will start at Shakespeare’s Cliff between Folkestone and Dover in Kent and finish near Cap Gris Nez between Boulogne and Calais.

She will be in the water for 15 hours.

She needs to raise £4,490 to complete her swim as she needs to pay registration fees and for pilot boats.

Any additional money will go to towards educating children in refugee camps.

To donate to Dr Alsharkas’ appeal, go to spsr.me/PbKj.