A young refugee’s giant footsteps

The refugee crisis is often in the news, and like other complex, global issues it can be hard to relate to. Perhaps focussing on the arduous journey of just one unaccompanied minor would help.

The Walk – One little girl. One BIG hope.
In 2021, from the Syria-Turkey border all the way to the UK, The Walk brought together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations, creating one of the most innovative and adventurous public artworks ever attempted. At the heart of The Walk is ‘Little Amal’, a 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a young refugee girl, created by the acclaimed Handspring Puppet Company. Representing all displaced children, many separated from their families, Little Amal is travelling over 8,000km embodying the urgent message “Don’t forget about us”.

Four months, 5,000 miles: A refugee puppet looks for homeThe New York Times
The puppeteers were watching Tamara closely in order to mimic her behavior and create a 9-year-old Syrian refugee named Little Amal, the lead character in “The Walk,” one of the year’s most ambitious pieces of theater — and certainly the piece of theater with the biggest stage. The plot of “The Walk” was simple: Little Amal had lost her mother, and was looking to find her. But the logistics to pull off the almost $4 million project — a 5,000 mile journey from Turkey to England — were anything but.

She set off from Turkey in July.

Puppet of young Syrian refugee embarks on 5,000-mile journeyEuronews
Walking through the streets of Gaziantep, Turkey, a 12-foot-tall puppet of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee girl, called ‘Little Amal’, attracts the attention of passersby. Towering over crowds, it’s the beginning of a transcontinental trip that organisers hope will bring awareness to the refugee crisis, and the plight of millions of displaced children around the world.

And arrived in England in October.

Refugee puppet Little Amal welcomed at St Paul’s Cathedralindy100
The crowd cheered as Little Amal neared St Paul’s, and a group of children chanted “Amal! Amal! Amal!” The 3.5-metre tall puppet then climbed the cathedral’s steps before handing a gift – a wood carving of a ship at sea from St Paul’s birthplace at Tarsus in Turkey – to the dean, David Ison. Dr Ison addressed the puppet, saying: “The dome of St Paul’s is known around the world. Our doors are big enough to receive you. Our hope here for London is that it is big enough to receive all those who seek refuge in this city.”

The journey of Little AmalThe Atlantic
Amir Nizar Zuabi, the project’s artistic director, says, “The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 meters tall because we want the world to grow big enough to greet her.”

Highlighting these journeys is a contentious issue, however.

Giant puppet ruffles some feathers on a long walk through GreeceThe New York Times
On Monday, the local council of Meteora, a municipality in central Greece, voted to ban Amal from walking through a village in the area, which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its cluster of Orthodox monasteries built on towering rock formations. The objection raised by several council members was that a puppet depicting a Muslim refugee should not be permitted to perform in a space of such importance to Greek Orthodox believers. The local bishop opposed the project for that reason, while a local heritage group complained that the initiative could bring more refugees to a country that has already taken in tens of thousands.

The Walk: Little Amal puppet’s 8,000 km march across Europe to highlight refugee crisisWorld Socialist Web Site
If Amal was a real girl, she would not have made her way to Manchester so easily. Her way would have been blocked by barbed wire and national borders. Most likely, she would not have passed through Turkey, but would have been thrown into a concentration camp funded by the European Union (EU) as part of its Fortress Europe barring the way to asylum seekers. An EU deal signed in 2016 allows Greece to deport refugees that manage to reach its territory to Turkey. […]

Had Amal managed the journey across Europe, at the mercy of people smugglers, on reaching the port of Calais in northern France she would have joined 2,000 migrants, including 300 unaccompanied children stranded at the site of “The Jungle”—1.5 square miles (3.9 sq km) of refugee camps demolished in 2016. Police in Calais carry out daily evictions there, seizing tents, sleeping bags and blankets. They placed boulders to impede access to aid agency vehicles providing water, food and clothing.

But she did make it to Manchester, and then continued further north to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this week.

Migrant justice = Climate justiceUN Climate Change Conference (COP26)
The climate crisis is forcing people to move, and it will force millions more to move in the future. The issue of safe passage is an urgent one. Little Amal, a young refugee and 3.5m high puppet, has just completed a remarkable 8000km journey – The Walk, produced by Good Chance Theatre in association with Handspring Puppet Company. Along the way, Amal met with refugees like her, many affected directly by the consequences of the climate crisis. As borders are raised, how should we respond to this growing need to move to find safety?

Giant Syrian refugee puppet Amal attend COP26 in GlasgowThe Scotsman
The giant puppet’s visit comes at the Gender + Science and Innovation Day at the conference. The day focuses on not only the ways in which women, girls and marginalised people are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but also the importance of their leadership and participation in driving solutions.