Giant Syrian refugee puppet irritates some on walk in Greece

ATHENS – A giant puppet depicting a nine-year-old Syrian girl named Amal has been traveling through Turkey and Greece for much of the pa...


ATHENS – A giant puppet depicting a nine-year-old Syrian girl named Amal has been traveling through Turkey and Greece for much of the past month. This is the first stop on a 5,000-mile journey, rich in symbols as a new migration crisis looms in Europe after the Taliban take control of Afghanistan.

The puppet is the main character of an ambitious theater project called “The walkWhich aims to draw attention to the experience of refugees by following a route similar to that taken by some Syrians who escaped civil war in their country.

“Little Amal” and his assistants plan to cross eight countries and dozens of cities in an 8,000 kilometer race to shed light on the plight of millions of displaced refugees.

But Amal, who is 12 feet tall and “walks” with the help of the accompanying team of puppeteers, is not welcome everywhere.

On Monday, the local council of Meteora, a municipality in central Greece, voted to ban Amal from walking through a village in the region, which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. World heritage site known for its group of Orthodox monasteries built on towering rock formations.

The objection raised by several board members was that a puppet representing a Muslim refugee should not be allowed to perform in a space of such importance to Greek Orthodox believers. The local bishop opposed the project for this reason, while a local heritage group complained that the initiative could bring more refugees to a country that has already hosted tens of thousands.

Tensions in this corner of Greece come as Europe grapples again with the inflammatory issue of migration amid the escalating crisis in Afghanistan.

Greece was particularly affected by the 2015-2016 migration crisis, which saw more than a million refugees flocking across the country, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then many Greeks, especially on the Aegean islands, came to help. Over time, however, solidarity gave way to frustration, which intensified during a standoff at the land border with Turkey in March 2020 when thousands of migrants attempted to enter Greece. Since then, the Greek authorities have hardened their position, the extension of a metal fence at the land border and the drafting of legislation to speed up evictions.

During a debate in parliament on the bill on Friday, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said Greece “will not allow itself to become a gateway to Europe for illegal migration flows, such as it was from 2015 to 2019 “.

The local Meteora heritage association has expressed particular concern that the puppet initiative may encourage a new wave of refugees in Greece.

“How far can Greece show solidarity? Grigorios Kalyvas, the head of the association, said. “Isn’t there a limit to what we can do and how much we can take? “

At a local council meeting on Monday evening, Meteora mayor Theodoros Alekos said his concern was over the presence of a “Muslim doll from Syria” in an area rich in Orthodox and popular significance for tourism. religious. Concerns that the local march, which had been scheduled for Sunday, could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus at a time when record infection levels in Greece have also been factored into the decision to stop it, has t -he declares.

The puppet would not be prevented from passing through the municipality’s main town, Kalambaka, on its way through Greece, the council decided, but would not be allowed in villages near the monasteries.

For the association of local heritage, this was not enough. “If they enter the city, there will be demonstrations,” Kalyvas said, saying the puppet’s presence would be an “insult”. He added: “If they keep it wrapped in the box, that’s fine.”

David Lan, one of the producers of “The Walk”, said in a telephone interview from Greece that he did not foresee any opposition to the project, but that he was not surprised given of the way some people in Europe perceive refugees. “It is a very current problem with Afghanistan,” he added.

The plan called for Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic, to walk near monasteries and picnic with local children, Lan said, adding that his team had obtained approval from regional authorities for the plan. the event. But they were now planning to go elsewhere. “If we’re not welcome, we don’t go.

“The Walk” is from “The Jungle”, an acclaimed refugee play that took place in London’s West End and at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.

The project involves Amal and her puppeteers traveling from Gazientep, Turkey, to Manchester, England, with many detours along the way. Gaziantep was chosen because it is home to tens of thousands of Syrians, and Manchester because of its high concentration of asylum seekers.

Along the way, Amal participates in events with local artists, children and refugee groups.

In Gazientep, excited children held up lanterns to guide Amal through the city. And on the Greek island of Chios, choirs sang for welcome him like an orchestra was playing.

“The meaning is obvious,” Mr. Lan said, referring to the purpose of the project. “It’s ‘Don’t forget us.'”

Niki Kitsantonis brought back from Athens, and Alex marshall from London.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Giant Syrian refugee puppet irritates some on walk in Greece
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