A Syrian teenager made a strong plea Monday for the world to give refugees fleeing his country’s war an opportunity, as he received the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize in The Hague. “We just want people to give us a chance to prove ourselves,” Mohamad al-Jounde said. “I can promise you, we are people just like them, we live in the same world,” Jounde said, as he was handed the award at a gala ceremony, in a medieval hall in the Dutch capital.
The 16-year-old’s words came after yet another wave of Syrian air strikes killed at least 25 civilians and wounded dozens across the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on Sunday, a Britain-based monitor said. More than 340,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 and more than five million others have fled, according to the UN refugee agency.
Many refugees, including 2.5 million children, are now in camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. “Mohamad receives the award for his tireless efforts to ensure the rights of Syrian refugee children,” competition organizers KidsRights Foundation said. The energetic boy, along with his family, built a school for 200 refugee children in a refugee camp in Lebanon where he taught maths, English and his passion, photography.
But after the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II peaked in 2015, and a string of jihadist attacks, refugees and migrants have faced a growing backlash in recent months. “My message to people who don’t want refugees to be there is we didn’t want to come either. But that’s what war does,” said Jounde, who now lives in Sweden with his mother and father. “Start dealing with us as normal people, not as refugees or immigrants,” he said.
In its 13th year, the prize is awarded annually “to a child who fights courageously for children’s rights”, KidsRights said. It also includes a 100,000 euro ($118,000) investment for projects in the winner’s home country. Past winners include Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and the prize’s first recipient, Nkosi Johnson, a South African boy who shone a light on the plight of children with HIV/AIDS.