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Puppet of young Syrian refugee embarks on 5,000-mile journey

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.

Little Amal's journey will take her 5,000 miles, across eight countries.

The puppet is the centrepiece for an art project, named 'The Walk'. Amal means "hope" in Arabic.

Project creator and producer David Lan says the aim is to tell "a story."

"By telling the story, we want to focus attention on hundreds and thousands of stories of individual people, none of whom chose to take the journeys that they've taken. But they were in fear of their lives and the lives of their families. And all of them are different," he says.

Little Amal began her journey on Tuesday evening (27 July 2021) in the southern Turkish border town of Gaziantep, and is enroute to the English city of Manchester.

She's expected to travel through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium before reaching her final destination in the UK.

Organizers say the journey across Europe was designed to emulate one of the many routes taken by migrants every year, over land and by sea.

"Because the idea is so simple that all we're doing is taking this very large puppet of a little girl for a very, very, very long walk in search of her mother, that's all we're doing, many, many, many people found that they could connect to this idea in in one way or another," says Lan.

Accompanying Little Amal on her long, 5,000-mile journey will be four puppeteers who hold and animate her.

One puppeteer operates each arm, one supporting her torso, and one inside, walking on stilts.

Lan says several puppeteers are refugees themselves.

"One from Eritrea, one originally from Syria, whose family made the long journey across Turkey, across Europe," he says.

"So, more and more and more people joined this idea, and that's how it grew. So, there are now more than 100 events to welcome that are being prepared. And last night we had the first of them, in Gaziantep."

The conflict in Syria, which borders Turkey and the province of Gaziantep to its north, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country's pre-war population of 23 million.

Large parts of Syria have been destroyed and tens of thousands still live in tent settlements. Neighbouring Turkey hosts over 3.5 million Syrian refugees.

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