Puppet makes cross-Europe trek to support child refugees

Little Amal, a 3.5 metre-tall puppet depicting an unaccompanied Syrian refugee, is seen in Bains des Paquis in Geneva, Switzerland, September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - A 3.5-metre (11.5 ft)-tall puppet depicting a Syrian refugee girl arrived in Geneva on Tuesday as part of an 8,000-km (4,970-mile) walk across Europe to raise awareness of the plight of young refugees.

"Little Amal" -- which means 'hope' in Arabic -- started her journey on July 27 in Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border. After her stop in Geneva, she will continue toward her last stop in the northern English city of Manchester.

The puppet depicts a nine-year-old refugee girl in search of safety and her mother, who never returned from her attempt to find food. The Handspring Puppet Company created her as part of an effort to raise awareness about the plight of unaccompanied refugee children.

Four puppeteers bring Amal to life, including one inside her frame walking on stilts who also operates a complex system of strings that control the puppet's facial expressions. There are also puppeteers operating each arm, and one supporting her back.

"We are artists, so we create emotion, empathy, to try and make things change," said Claire Bejanin, who produced the puppet's walk in France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.

"We call on children from all over world to write letters for children like Amal and that we will bring to the European Parliament," she added. "We use the tools we have, which are images, beauty, art and different communities."

It was a sobering moment for nine-year-old Alicia Minardi, who was visiting the protest site outside the U.N. European headquarters with her school class.

"I’m happy and sad. Happy because for me and my classmates, everything is great, but I'm sad because there are a lot of children for whom it's very hard to live like this," she said.

(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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