Little Amal: Welcomed to the Midlands by Kurdish Iraqi officer PC Kanar

Amal is a giant puppet of a child refugee, currently travelling across Britain on her journey from the Syrian border with Turkey to find safety, hope, and the family she lost along the way. 

On Wednesday (27 Oct) Amal was in Coventry as part of City of Culture celebrations, before making her way to Birmingham on Thursday. having visited Coventry the day before.

The first person to officially welcome her to the region was PC Talabani, and it was an emotional time for the officer, as her story is almost identical to Amal's.

PC Kanar arrived in the UK 23 years ago, as a six year old child refugee, escaping genocide and civil war in her homeland.

Talabani said “It’s been an emotional experience. I realised that’s me, that’s who I was. I look back at what my family and I went through, and things could have been very different."

PC Kanar Talabani is one of the West Midlands Police School Link Officers, working with young people in Birmingham and she’s the only female Kurdish Iraqi officer in the force. 

Her journey to safety – and ultimately West Midlands Police - took her thousands of miles by car, on foot and by airplane. 

After giving her warm words of welcome and shaking her hand, Kanar became upset at being reminded of her own experience. Seeing her tears, Amal hugged the officer.  “I remember the night, my mum, sister, brother, and I left our home."

"We were targets for those who were ‘ethnically cleansing’ our region. My parents knew we had to go there and then,” said Kanar.  “It’s one of my earliest memories. It was night time and we were bundled into a car. My mum and dad were arguing about bringing toys for us kids. He thought they’d take up too much space and slow us down – they weren’t essential. But mum knew we needed something that reminded us of home. As they were taken out of the bag, I grabbed my Minnie Mouse. I’ve kept it ever since.”  The family drove and walked for hundreds of miles before arriving at a United Nations safe haven in Syria. Many members of her family had been killed, including her grandma. Her dad was wanted by Saddam Hussein’s government soldiers and was forced into hiding. For almost two years, Kanar didn’t know if her dad was dead or alive.   The family found a home in Birmingham and started to learn English. Twenty-three years later, Kanar and her mum still live in that house. She has used her police pay to buy the property for her mum.   “I work with children now to support them through the trauma they experience. I want to prevent a child from feeling how I felt and having to deal with awful things in their lives, on their own." Kanar said.

Amal's warm welcome in Coventry Credit: Haroon Mota

 “To be the first person to welcome little Amal into Coventry has been fantastic."

"She has made the same journey and she’s been made to feel just as welcome as my family and I were. I’m so grateful for the opportunities this country has given me and my family.” Chief Inspector Helen Kirkman, from Coventry Police, said, “Seeing Kanar’s emotional response to meeting Amal was so touching. It was also really touching to see how many people came out to welcome Amal to the city. And that’s the power of art!"