Little Amal — a powerful symbol of refugees, especially children

KIDS AT URBAN PATHWAYS COLLEGE CHARTER SCHOOL enjoy “Little Amal,” a 12-foot puppet that symbolizes the fight for human rights for refugees. Nearly half of the world’s refugees are children. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

She came through Downtown Pittsburgh to much fanfare

There are a lot of tall buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh, but for one afternoon, a 10-year-old rose above them all when it came to significance and inspiration.

Little Amal isn’t old enough to drive, but one thing we know for sure — she’s too tall to ride the rides at Kennywood’s Kiddieland.


Little Amal is 12 feet tall. And she’s become a strong symbol of refugees, as they often have to overcome adverse circumstances, along with fighting for their human rights.

Little Amal is a puppet, a Syrian refugee who traveled through the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh on Sept. 20 to much acclaim from the young and the old. A parade of sorts was thrown for Little Amal, as kids from schools like Urban Pathways College Charter School greeted her with open arms. Pittsburgh Public Schools’ “One Band One Sound” also performed in the parade.

In the two years since Little Amal was created, she carries a message of hope for displaced people everywhere, especially children who have been separated from their families, according to her website. She’s walked more than 6,000 miles in 15 different countries, and she’s currently on a tour through the U.S., one that spans 40 cities.

Her creators decided to make her larger than life to shine a spotlight on refugee children who are often overlooked. Refugees are generally described as people who have been forced to leave their countries in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. And what isn’t widely known is that with Little Amal being 10 years old, she is a symbol that nearly half (41 percent) of all refugees across the world are children.

Since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. has admitted more than 3.1 million refugees. In 2022, only the Democratic Republic of Congo had more refugees admitted into the U.S. (7,810) than Syria (4,556), which is located in Southwest Asia. The other countries that ranked in the top 10 were: Myanmar, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Guatemala, El Salvador, Moldova and Iraq. About 25,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. in 2022, according to data from the Council on Foreign Relations. President Joe Biden reversed a proposal by former President Donald Trump to lower the cap for refugees into the U.S. As an example, the country’s first and only Black president, Barack Obama, admitted over 84,000 refugees into the country in 2016. But by President Trump’s third year in office, 2019, just 30,000 refugees were admitted as the ceiling was lowered. President Biden has since increased the ceiling to 125,000.


The Pittsburgh area has seen its fair share of refugees, too. According to the Pa. Department of Human Services and the Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh, first reported by WESA-FM (90.5), 994 refugees were resettled in Allegheny County from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022. That number skyrocketed due to ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Amir Nizar Zuabi, Little Amal’s artistic director, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that they brought Little Amal to the U.S. “because the U.S. is a country that’s been created by forced immigration and displacement — these are the ingredients of U.S. history.”


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