Victoria Greenwood writes:
As part of my voluntary work with Asylum Welcome, we brought a group of Afghan refugees from their temporary hotel accommodation to welcome the puppet Little Amal to Oxford. We watched her meet Alice in Wonderland and start their adventure together in the Botanical Gardens and then unfold through Oxford’s cobbled streets and dreaming spires.
For those who have not heard of Little Amal, she is a 3.5 metre puppet representing a girl refugee travelling alone in search of her mother. She started her 8,000km journey a few miles from the Syrian border in July, has crossed eight countries and met thousands of people including the Pope. She walked into Oxford in late October, and her presence brought with it a spotlight on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied children making terrifying journeys.
Bringing together the hardship of Amal and the privilege of Alice in Wonderland in the setting of Oxford raises many questions and prompts us to check the reflection in our own looking glass. As Amal peered into colleges from the Porter’s Lodge entrances and took in the wealth, advantage and power of Oxford, the inequalities were laid bare for anyone to see. In a world where colonial histories have set the stage, a passport dictates access to freedoms and life chances policed by hostile and violent border controls dictating who can cross freely whilst others are kept out.
Silent Amal, standing tall, managed to shout this out.
In the UK right now the Borders Bill is approaching its third reading in the House of Commons. This bill judges a person’s right to refugee protection according to how they arrive in the UK, not on their need or the level of danger they face. This harsh treatment of those forced to flee also potentially increases risks faced by unaccompanied minors, like Little Amal, such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Amal’s reality is a living nightmare, not a fictional dream from which she can wake up.
Her visit to Oxford was hugely emotional, and she continues on and alone in search of sanctuary and safety. Much can be done to secure meaningful change for thousands of others like her. Asylum Welcome and other organisations are calling for a kinder, fairer, and more effective approach to supporting refugees in the UK and oppose the Borders Bill. We who live in comfort must not forget Amal, and can actively campaign, challenge, protest and call out this inhuman treatment of our fellow human beings.
The Afghan families enjoyed their visit to see Amal, but more importantly needed to eat, find a place to pray and space for the children to play. Life goes on for them yet the process to rebuild is still to begin, and despite having lost everything these families are the lucky ones. For the millions of human beings forcibly displaced globally owing to war, regime change, poverty, climate change, can we not welcome all who arrive not on the basis of how they arrived, but because they have arrived? Surely everyone is worthy of the dignity, respect and friendship that Oxford showed to Amal yesterday.