Refugee puppet Little Amal has been warming the hearts of Glasgow with her visit to the city this week. IMIX’s Community Outreach Officer Elahe Ziai jumped at the chance to be part of a special performance and writes about what it was like to encounter the iconic depiction of a refugee child.
Little Amal’s journey grasped my attention from the start. A character that had initially appeared in Good Chance Theatre’s award-winning play ‘The Jungle’, Amal represents the great number of unaccompanied children separated from their parents in the Calais camp. I followed her journey from behind the screen going from Gaziantep near the Turkey-Syria border, knowing it would culminate in Manchester.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I found out Little Amal was extending her journey to Glasgow and a volunteer coordinator would be needed. I felt I had to be part of this iconic project.
This journey and the meanings behind it are a cause very close to my heart. Through my many roles in the refugee sector, I came to know many young children from different parts of the world, who had no choice but to take similar journeys for the chance at a better life. I knew too well the constant fear, hunger, exhaustion they had to go through and the worst of all how their childhood was cruelly stolen from them.
To me Little Amal is not only a puppet, but she is also very much alive and represents the thousands of minors, infants, pregnant ladies, old, disabled people and so many others that cannot take ‘legal routes.’ They had to give up their lives, dignity and respect for the chance of safety.
From the first rehearsal, even though Amal was not there yet, I felt I knew her for a long time, and I could sense everyone else had the same feeling. It was very heart-warming to see people from different parts of the world including Yemen, Greece, Sudan, Iran, Syria, France, Ireland, and of course from my ‘dear green place,’ come together to discuss how best to welcome little Amal to Glasgow.
Imagining the journey
During some parts of the rehearsals, we had to practice being hungry, tired, sleepy, and walking on a frigidly cold winter night. I would close my eyes and see millions of displaced children who are more vulnerable than ever, missing their parents and homes, in the middle of nowhere trying to survive their journey.
They are probably too young and desperate to understand that under the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, their journey to the UK would be classed as ‘clandestine’ or ‘illegal.’
Flowers, banners and love
The day finally arrived when Little Amal was welcomed with love, kindness, and compassion in Glasgow. So many children were among the crowds who came to welcome Amal with flowers and banners. I could read from their faces that they genuinely loved Amal and wanted to be friends with her.
In a child’s world, borders do not exist. They make friends easily without thinking about one’s immigration status. They include you in their games and in their imaginations. Integration in a child’s world is not as complex as in the adult world.
My moment with Little Amal
The show began and all performers did an amazing job, everything went as planned and to me as a volunteer coordinator it was such a relief. And then came the moment, that I was not sure how to feel about. The moment of me singing lullabies to little Amal.
Somehow, I was so excited to get to sing to her, but I was also emotionally wrecked that how much her real mum wanted to be here to sing to her baby girl. I am not a mother, but I know for a fact that when a woman gets pregnant, they will dream of the bright future of their child, their first smile, their first tears, their first day of school, their graduation and even their wedding.
‘Lump in my throat’
They picture their child growing up healthy and happy and I am pretty sure the last thing a mother could imagine for her child is for them to end up seeking sanctuary somewhere extremely far from home. Yes, I am sure Amal’s mother, like other mothers in the world thought she would get to see her ‘wee lassie’ to grow and flourish and become a successful woman.
She named her ‘Amal’ (meaning hope in Arabic) hoping that she would be the light of her life. She thought she would get to sing lullabies for her all the time, but if only she knew…
I approached Amal quietly, sat beside her, I could feel how tired she was, I could feel how homesick she was, I could feel how hungry she was. I sat down with sorrow trying to resist tears rushing in my eyes, hoping the big lump in my throat would let me sing.
‘Drifted into sleep’
I began to sing and stroke her hair with the hope of singing her into dreamland, where she feels welcomed all the time, where she reunites with her parents, where she is not labelled ‘asylum seeker’, ‘refugee’, or ‘failed refugee’. Where she doesn’t need to learn how the asylum process works, where she won’t get punished or criminalised for her method of arrival.
Amal was very tired and drifted into sleep very quickly. I looked around while leaving the scene and could not help but feel proud to be part of Glasgow, the city that has welcomed thousands of Little Amals and their families. The city that has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need.
Real refugee journey
I enjoyed my emotional encounter with Little Amal, and I am proud of how warmly my beautiful city welcomed her. I wish all our politicians knew, that little Amal is not the only child who had/has this perilous journey. She is only a representative of millions of people, and her journey is a recreation of a real refugee journey taken by those fleeing conflict, war, poverty and so many other things.
On their journey they may have experienced very difficult and traumatic circumstances, including time spent in refugee camps, separation from their families, being victims of human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse and their basic needs generally not being met and the last thing they want to be is a ‘criminal’.
I wish that there were safe legal routes for people who needed sanctuary, but I am afraid there is no such a thing as ‘safe routes’ or ‘refugee visa’ for countless Little Amals.
If you also believe people like Amal should receive love, compassion, support and justice, please help to fight the #AntiRefugeeBill by signing this petition