A giant puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee has embarked on a tour of England, visiting landmark destinations to take part in World Refugee Week.
ittle Amal, designed to highlight the plight of child refugees, became an international symbol of human rights after she journeyed from the Turkish-Syrian border to Manchester last July.
On Sunday, the 3.5m puppet began her New Steps New Friends tour, visiting 10 towns and cities across England to share her resilient and hopeful message: “Don’t forget about us.”
Artistic director Amir Nazir told the PA news agency: “The whole project stems from the idea that refugees are thought of as a problem, when actually they’re not, they’re potential.
“By walking with Amal through cities and through communities, creating a big art spectacle and creating big moments where the community can gather and think of itself and how it receives others, proves the case that refugees shouldn’t be regarded as a burden.
“The awareness to the plight of refugees is always crucial.”
Beginning her tour in Manchester, Amal will go on to visit Bradford, Leeds and journey to the Liverpool docks, as well as meeting the communities in Birmingham, Cheltenham and Bristol’s historic Old City and Harbour.
She will return to the Southbank Centre in London and visit Stonehenge before finishing her journey on the beach in Folkestone in Kent – where she first arrived as a refugee a year ago.
Mr Nazir said: “For me, it was really important that she goes back to the beach of Folkestone that received her beautifully. The community was unbelievable in its welcome and its warmth the day we arrived to the UK.
“I felt that it’s important that she finishes there as a moment where she stands with the sea and says, ‘I’m starting a new chapter in my life.’
“It was very important for us to go to different places, try and do a different route so she meets different parts of the country.”
In May, Amal landed in Poland, bringing aid relief packages for Ukrainian refugee children and their families.
Mr Nazir said: “We just came back from Ukraine and the way the world is treating the Ukrainian refugees is heart-warming.
“At last, the world has risen to the plate and shown that when we want, we can come together, we can host big numbers of people, the economies do not collapse, the world doesn’t stop, the world keeps spinning on its axis.
“That proves that if we want we can and I encourage us to want for everyone and not just certain types of people.”
Amal’s week-long walk in England comes as lawyers attempt to block Government plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Talking about the Little Amal project in relation to the deportation flights, Mr Nazir said: “We hit another moral low with something like the flights to Rwanda, but without getting polemical or political, this project is about awareness.
“It’s about telling a story of one child, giving a very strong visibility to hundreds of thousands of children like her that are walking around Earth lost, unloved and uncared.
“We want to touch hearts, because that’s more important than politics and that’s why she’s walking.”
Last summer, Little Amal travelled almost 5,000 miles across Turkey and Europe “in search of her mother” before settling in Manchester.
Mr Nazir added: “When we set out to do this crazy project of walking from the border of Syria to Manchester, people asked me, ‘Do you think it will make a difference?’
“My answer is the same: if we changed one person, it’s worth four-and-a-half months of walking.
“We create art, we don’t create measurable impact, but we know that as we were walking, entire cities came to welcome her; entire cities were moved by her story.
“A lot of people from the refugee community would come up and say this is a moment of healing for them because their story is being celebrated.
“I know we changed some hearts, because we met them.
“I set out to tell one story of a young girl who’s lost in this world looking for her mum, going through adventures, hardship and moments of great beauty and great warmth day by day.”