Giant puppet to walk to Manchester to highlight displaced refugee children

Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry is one of the producers of The Walk.

The puppet in The Walk
The puppet in The Walk

A giant puppet of a child refugee will walk from the Turkish-Syrian border to Manchester, symbolising “millions of displaced children”.

The puppet will travel almost 5,000 miles across Turkey and Europe “in search of her mother”.

Organisers say Little Amal, a 3.5-metre-tall puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl, is an “emblem of the millions of displaced refugee children separated from their families”.

Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry, one of the producers of The Walk, said the event was a “travelling festival of art and hope” in support of “refugees and, in particular, children refugees”.

The Walk will cover almost 5,000 miles (Bevan Roos)

Amal will travel through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to reach the UK.

The “public artwork” will culminate in a large-scale, outdoor participatory event at Manchester International Festival in July next year.

During its route, the puppet – created from a moulded cane body and carbon fibre head, arms and legs – will be met with Covid-safe street parades and music, dance and theatre events.

The puppet is operated by three people – one standing on a pair of stilts inside its body and two others beside moving its arms.

Syrian artists will create art installations on the theme of exile in many of the over 70 cities, towns and villages where it travels.

Organisers say they want to “highlight the millions of displaced children who are more vulnerable than ever during the global pandemic” and a fundraising campaign to support refugees will take place during The Walk.

Amal will travel through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to reach the UK (Bevan Roos)

The Walk is co-produced by Good Chance Theatre, which is known for staging plays in the Calais refugee camp and for its production depicting people living inside the camp, shown at The Young Vic.

Creators of the War Horse puppets, the Handspring Puppet Company, are also involved.

The project’s artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi said: “She is walking through your town. The question is how would you like to welcome her?”

John E McGrath, artistic director of the Manchester International Festival, said the puppet would travel through the Midlands, Yorkshire and the Peak District.

“Manchester, as a city, has long welcomed a diverse and dynamic community of refugees and asylum seekers to the city,” he said, adding the festival will provide an “extraordinary welcome”.

It comes after the Government faced criticism over a series of leaks on ideas of how to deal with asylum seekers.

Ministers and officials faced a backlash over reports on possible ideas for how to make changes to the asylum system.

Home Secretary Priti Patel later said the UK’s asylum system is “fundamentally broken. And we have a responsibility to act”.

Tracey Seaward, one of the producers of the puppet event, said that “the impact of Covid has made a really dire situation even worse than ever for the displaced”.

She added: “There are so many urgent issues fighting for all of our attention right now… but for refugees and the displaced, they feel the impact on a greater, much more devastating scale.”

The Walk takes place from April  to July 2021.

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