Little Amal, Larger than Life
Little Amal, a 12 feet tall puppet was used in a performing arts project, The Walk, in 2021. Since 2021, Amal, a fictional 10-year-old Syrian girl—symbolizing asylum seekers and standing in solidarity for children who have fled conflict, violence, and persecution, each with their own story—has traveled over 9000 kilometers across thirty states. Half of around 27 million refugees around the world are children, according to the statistics of 2021. Amal’s message to the world is “Don’t forget about us.”
Together, the Good Chance Theatre and The Handspring Puppet Company created the character and launched the months-long effort. The playwright and director of The Walk, Amir Nizar Zuabi remarked, “When we talk about migration and refugees, we tend to forget that more than half of the individuals we’re talking about are children.”
The project was inspired by the pain and anguish of the asylum seekers moving across Europe, observed by the writer of this theatrical play. As the world seemingly fears welcoming refugees, the new model of theater put up by Zuabi intended to make states reopen their doors to refugees.
Purpose of the Walk
The artists designed Little Amal, whose name in Arabic means “hope,” to increase awareness of the plight of refugee children. The puppet, according to the theatrical project’s organizers, is a 10-year-old Syrian refugee looking for her mother. She is now recognized around the world as a symbol of kindness and civil rights.
The idea behind highlighting the refugee crisis was a general perception that refugees bring along misery, hopelessness, and a burden. However, this is not the case; refugees should be seen as the most resilient people, and their potential can be utilized to connect people across the globe. Refugees can bring added value to societies through their experiences and merging diverse cultures.
Origin of Little Amal
Amal started her journey from the Turkiye-Syria border in July 2021. To address the world refugee crisis, Amal completed her 5000-kilometer walk last year in Europe, and this year amidst the annual gathering of important world leaders in UNGA, she reached New York City in the United States.
As Amal started her walk from Turkey into Greece and from there into 850 different cities within Europe, it is important to take a look at the response Europe has had to the huge influx of refugees and stateless people including Syrian refugees. The situation has raised important questions regarding the ability of the European Union to cater to the crisis.
The Refugee Crisis in Europe
The status of refugees in Europe is contested. Across Europe, people who were already stateless in their country of origin arrive in Europe as migrants, trafficking victims, or refugees and experience citizenship problems. They might become stateless following their arrival due to the deprivation of nationality.
With the mass influx of refugees in 2015 into Europe, the number of stateless persons in host states has grown significantly. There are also stateless people who have migrated to Europe but have become stranded because of a lack of procedures to determine their statelessness.
Most European countries have no framework to effectively respond to statelessness. This affects migrants, refugees, and people who have lived in the same place for generations. European immigration officers also face confusing cases of stateless people in need of international protection as stateless persons.
The liberties given to the immigrant population are recognized as the main factors of distress in socio-political life in Europe. A number of countries like Greece, Denmark, and Austria have retained restrictive citizenship laws due to the growing trend of external migration.
The discussion on immigration, particularly as it relates to Muslim migrants, is taking on a more extreme aspect as support for far-right parties and groups increases in a number of countries. This has led to the acceptance of anti-immigrant attitudes and policies across the political spectrum. The countries with more negative views about Muslims are more likely to be intolerant of refugees in Europe.
There are no standards for becoming a European Union citizen for immigrants. Nearly all European states require a certain period of continuous residence in their national territory rather than the territory of the European Union as a condition for naturalization according to their laws. As a result, refugees struggle with exclusion and marginalization in both their home as well as the host country. The situation is dire as Little Amal aims to accentuate the issue of child refugees. The children are the world’s shining future, thereby it is disappointing to watch them navigate through life while being subjected to such exclusionary measures.
Response to Amal
The Walk is used as a project to soften European hearts with their attitude towards refugees. Although she had to face anti-immigrant gestures as protesters pelted her with stones in Greece, she has received plenty of love simultaneously. From a cheerful Pope Francis who greeted her in Rome to the innumerable kids she encountered along the way who saw Amal not as a stranger but as an abandoned child and even a friend.
The European flag was presented to Amal as a gift to represent bringing people together when she was out walking. Additionally, she received a copy of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlines her legal protections during her mission.
A Little Too Challenging?
But can Little Amal truly have an impact on the raging anti-immigration politics that are currently taking place in Europe? Zuabi admitted in an interview, “I don’t know. But it is our duty to try.” His fellow producer, Tracey Seaward said they want to “rewrite the narrative about refugees.”
European states lack effective national frameworks to put international legal obligations to address statelessness into practice. States need to introduce dedicated procedures to identify who is stateless and grant stateless people their rights and a route to acquiring a nationality. Also, states must implement their nationality laws in a way as to ensure that every person on their territory can realize their right to nationality. Statelessness needs to be put higher on the political agenda of the EU, especially in the context of the current refugee crisis.
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