In January 2014, when Nujeen Mustafa was 16, she began a 5,600 kilometre journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. She has since become a powerful advocate for the rights of refugees and for people with disabilities, sharing the harrowing story of her journey to move hearts and change policies. Mustafa was born with cerebral palsy, unable to walk without assistance. In her home city of Aleppo, Syria, she never attended school. She taught herself English by watching American soap operas.
Mustafa’s account was chronicled in a book co-authored by a British journalist and author, Christina Lamb, Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair. Her persuasive speaking has also encouraged international disability reform efforts.
As the forces of the Islamic State (known as ISIS) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad escalated their attacks on civilians, Mustafa and her family fled to Turkey. Together with her sister, Mustafa soon embarked on a grueling 16-month journey by foot, boat and bus. They crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Greece and struggled northward through Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary, finally arriving in Germany.
Throughout the ordeal, Mustafa refused to give in to despair or see herself as a passive victim. As she told a BBC reporter in a now-viral video: ‘You should fight to get what you want in this world.’
In a unique partnership with Human Rights Watch, the European Disability Forum and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Mustafa urged senior policymakers in the European Union to re-evaluate their policies regarding people with disabilities in humanitarian crises. The EU commissioner for humanitarian assistance has announced new measures to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid meets the needs of people with disabilities.