Nearly two years after they met in a refugee camp in Jordan, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Tuesday welcomed the Syrian schoolgirl activist Muzoon Almellehan to her new home in northern England.
Malala, who moved to Britain in 2012 after being shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban for refusing to quit school, won acclaim for her advocacy of women’s right to education. She became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Meeting with families in tow at a gleaming public library in the northeast English city of Newcastle, 18-year-old Malala and Muzoon, 17, pledged to campaign together for access to education for Syrian refugee children.
“I hope world leaders promise the future generation that they will not deprive them of their basic human right, which is education,” Malala told Reuters in an interview.
The setting for their reunion was a far cry from the sprawling lines of tents comprising the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert, where the pair first met in early 2014.
Malala now lives in England’s second city, Birmingham, where she was treated after being shot, and Muzoon is among the first Syrians from refugee camps in the Middle East to have come to Britain.
Since the two first met, the number of registered Syrian refugees has doubled to almost 4.4 million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR).
More than 250,000 people have been killed since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
“I hope 2016 becomes a year when this war ends and world leaders must try,” Malala said.
Appeals for funding from the world’s governments have fallen far short of targets. With only days before the end of the year, the UNHCR’s $4.3 billion appeal for Syria in 2015 has raised just $2.2 billion.
UN children’s agency UNICEF estimates 2.6 million Syrian children are no longer in school. Muzoon, often dubbed the “Malala of Syria”, made her name encouraging girls to stay in school, rather than being married off at a young age.
“We need to speak about education and how to help children, especially in Syria, because there are more children in Syria without education,” Muzoon said.
Malala and Muzoon met again in July this year to open a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and have kept in touch through Skype and email.
“(World leaders) need to listen to Muzoon - she has a dream, she wants to become a journalist, she has been away from her home for three or four years, and she wants to go back to her country one day,” Malala said.
Despite being occupied by school exams and plans to attend university in the next couple of years, the pair will be keeping a close eye on an international summit due to be held in Britain in early February, focused on Syria’s humanitarian crisis.
“This coming generation of Syrians are going to be deprived of their right and it means that country is going to face more problems if its children are uneducated,” Malala said.
Britain said in September it would resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees through to 2020. Germany was the world’s biggest recipient of new asylum claims at 159,000 during the first six months of 2015 alone, according to the UNHCR.
Malala expressed hope that Newcastle would welcome Muzoon in the same way Birmingham did for her.
“I call myself a Brummie now,” Malala said, referring to the nickname for residents of Birmingham.
“It’s a lovely society where you can interact with people and feel like you’re just part of it. I hope Muzoon can have a similar feeling.”