A teenage girl who was among the first Syrian refugees brought to the UK has launched an impassioned plea for world leaders to ensure children’s futures are not ruined by the country’s civil war.
Muzoon Almellehan has been dubbed the “Malala of Syria” for her campaign to keep girls in school and was introduced by her friend at the Supporting Syria conference.
The 17-year-old began by thanking the UK for welcoming her family and allowing them to “have a normal life again” where they have been resettled in Newcastle.
She is attending a local school and hopes to study to be a journalist in the future, but fears for hundreds of thousands of other Syrian children with no access to education.
This was Muzoon’s message to the world:
"Girls must get education. Their parents thought they were protecting their daughters but education is the best protection for girls. If a mother is not educated, how can she help her children? If young people are not educated who will rebuild the country?
We need education because Syria needs us. Syria needs engineers and teachers and doctors and journalists. Without us who will bring peace? I share the same message as my friend Malala: Education is power. Education is the future. Education makes us who we want to be."
The teenager said that although she and her peers have been dubbed a “lost generation”, they have not lost their love of learning, their dreams for the future or, most importantly, hope.
“Syria will never be the same as before the war – I hope it can be better,” Muzoon said.
“Will you help us? Will you fund the education we need to make our hopes and dreams come true?”
Her speech in London was watched by dignitaries from around the world, including British MPs, United Nations officials and members of royalty from several Arab states.
Opening the conference, David Cameron called on his fellow world leaders to increase aid for Syrian refugees amid fears that a fresh onslaught by President Bashar Assad's forces will drive a fresh exodus from the country.
Pledging an additional £1.2 billion of UK aid over the next four years, the Prime Minister said there was a “critical shortfall in life-saving aid that is fatally holding back our humanitarian efforts”.
“After years of conflict we are witnessing a desperate movement of humanity as hundreds of thousands of Syrians fear they have no alternative than to put their lives in the hands of evil people-smugglers in search of a future,” he added.
Mr Cameron’s speech was followed by national pledges amounting to billions of pounds, but he was harshly criticised on Twitter for calling on a “new approach” to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“Will we be accepting more refugees? Or stop selling arms to Saudi?” one person asked, while others accused the Prime Minister of “hypocrisy” as the RAF continues air strikes in Syria.
Muzoon, whose family was resettled from a Jordanian refugee camp as part of Britain’s scheme to take 20,000 refugees over five years, said young Syrians were needed to rebuild their country.
“One day, when I am a journalist, there is a story I want to write,” she said.
“I want to write the story of how all the Syrian children came home to lift up their country. I hope that story starts today .”
She grew up in Daraa, a city outside of Damascus that was besieged by Syrian government forces after pro-democracy protests in the Arab Spring, before being overrun by rebels and Islamists in February 2014.
Her parents took her, her two brothers and sister to Jordan when fighting intensified and they lived in camps there for three years.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
Muzoon became known for her campaigning at the Za’atari camp, where she went door to door attempting to convince parents to keep their daughters in refugee schools on the site, instead of marrying htem off.
“Life was not easy but I was lucky because I was in camps where there were schools, because I had parents that believe in education, especially for their daughters - not every girl has parents like that,” she said, describing seeing classmates as young as 14 drop out to be married.
Malala asked to meet Muzoon during her visit to the camp in 2014, striking up a friendship that continued when she invited her to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December of that year as a special guest.
After keeping in touch via Skype and email, they met again in Jordan in July last year, before being reunited when Muzoon arrived in the UK in December.
As the Geneva peace talks between warring factions in Syria stutter, Thursday’s conference focused on education and opportunity for Syrian refugees in reflection of the growing recognition that the fallout from the war will be very long-term.
Syria’s almost five-year-old conflict has killed an estimated 250,000 people and stoked the spread of Islamist militancy across the Middle East and North Africa.Reuse content