Nujeen Mustafa

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Nujeen Mustafa
Born1998/1999 (age 19–20)
Kobanî, Syria
ResidenceWesseling, Germany
Known forTravelling by wheelchair as a refugee, disability rights activism

Nujeen Mustafa (also translated Noujain Mustaffa, Arabic: نوجين مصطفى‎) is a Kurdish Syrian refugee and activist with cerebral palsy. She was raised in Kobane, Syria, and gained notoriety after travelling 3,500 miles (5,600 km) by wheelchair, fleeing conflict in the Syrian Civil War, before arriving and resettling in Germany. She was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women in 2018, and her story was featured on the television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In 2019 she became the first disabled person to brief the United Nations Security Council, and was the recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism from the Human Rights Watch. She has co-authored two books about her experiences. She resides in Wesseling where she attends a school for the disabled.


She was raised in Kobane, Syria, with her sisters and brother as part of a family of Kurdish. Her father, unable to read, sold sheep and goats while her brother dug water wells. She was born with cerebral palsy, and spent the majority of her life "confined to her family’s fifth-floor apartment in Aleppo."[1][2][3] According to reporting by National Geographic, their building had no elevator, and so it was difficult for her to leave, which could only be accomplished by having someone carry her to the ground floor.[2] She later compared the situation to being under house arrest:

For me, it meant not being able to go to school, hang out with friends or go to the cinema ... Having a disability in Syria often means that you are hidden away. You confront shame, discrimination and physical barriers. You are someone who is pitied.[4]

Mustafa could not attend school while in Syria, as there were no facilities to accommodate the disabled, but she learned English from watching television, including the American soap opera Days of Our Lives. In 2015, Last Week Tonight created a sketch based on the show for Mustafa where one of her favorite characters, EJ Dimera, was brought back from the dead and reunited with Sami Brady. The characters were played by their real actors, James Scott and Alison Sweeney.[5][2]

Beginning in 2014, at age 16, she traveled 3,500 miles (5,600 km) from Syria to Kobane, Turkey, and finally Germany as a refuge from the Syrian Civil War.[6][2][7] Without the money to travel as a family, her parents remained in Turkey while she and her sister Nasrine continued to Germany, where her brother was already living.[6] For the length of the trip, Mustafa traveled in a wheelchair with her sister pushing her.[2] She traveled, in her own words, as a "pay-as-you-go refugee", meaning that she did not have enough money to pay smugglers to take her the entire way, and had to find new ways to progress each day, from taxis to trains in addition to smugglers. The trip in its entirety cost around €6,000.[2]

She was granted asylum by Germany in late 2016.[7] As of 2017 she lived in Wesseling and attended a school for the disabled.[7]

Activism and recognition[edit]

Mustafa gained notoriety during her journey to Europe as a so-called "refugee celebrity", as she was interviewed by journalist while en route.[3]

In 2018 Mustafa was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women.[8] In 2019 she became the first person with a disability to brief the United Nations Security Council on her experiences during the war in Syria and policy regarding disabled persons.[9] She has also given talks at Palace of Nations in Geneva, TEDx in Iraq and the United Kingdom, and the presentation of the Nansen Refugee Award in 2017.[6]

In February 2019 Mustafa was announced as the winner of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, given out by Human Rights Watch, which cited the role her story played in helping to "move policymakers in the European Union" on the issue of the delivery of humanitarian aid to those with disabilities.[10] She accepted the award at a ceremony in Australia in April of the same year.[11]

Last Week Tonight[edit]

In 2015, Mustafa was featured on a segment of the television show Last Week Tonight hosted by John Oliver, covering the treatment of refugees, and which included segments from interviews she had given to the BBC.[12] The segment also featured a one-off scene between Days of Our Lives characters EJ DiMera and Sami Brady. These had been reported as Mustafa's favorite characters in the show, and the former had been killed off in a recent episode. The character EJ proceeded to address Mustafa, recognizing the difficulty of her journey as a refugee, and calling her "our kind of people".[13]


Mustafa has published two books, both co-authored with British journalist and writer Christina Lamb:

  • Mustafa, Nujeen; Lamb, Christina (10 October 2017). The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen's Escape from War to Freedom. Harper Wave. ISBN 978-0-06-282125-6.
  • Mustafa, Nujeen; Lamb, Christina (11 October 2016). Nujeen: One Girl's Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair. Harper Wave. ISBN 978-0-06-256775-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Connor, Joanne (2015-12-20). "Nujeen Mustafa: 'Sometimes it's good to be unaware. Maybe I was too young to realise the danger'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Worrall, Simon (November 6, 2016). "This Girl Escaped From a Syrian War Zone in a Wheelchair". National Geographic. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Jansen, Michael (April 22, 2017). "From Syria to Germany in a wheelchair". The Irish Times. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  4. ^ "Disabled Syrian Woman Tells UN: 'We Are Invisible'". Voice of America. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  5. ^ Mackey, Robert (2015-10-01). "Young Refugee Who Fled Syria in Wheelchair Thanks 'Days of Our Lives' Stars Who Reunited for Her". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  6. ^ a b c "Nujeen Mustafa". United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Young-Powell, Abby (2017-06-19). "What Nujeen Mustafa did next: 'As a refugee I feel I'm in a constant test'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  8. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2018: Who is on the list?". 2018-11-19. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  9. ^ Barriga, Shantha Rau (April 26, 2019). "A Historic Journey in a Wheelchair from Syria to the UN". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Syrian Rights Activist Honored 2019 Alison Des Forges Award Winner". Human Rights Watch. February 7, 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  11. ^ Barriga, Shantha Rau (April 11, 2019). "One woman's extraordinary journey to Australia". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  12. ^ Walters, Joanna (September 25, 2015). "John Oliver gets Days of Our Lives actors to pay tribute to Syrian refugee". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  13. ^ "Teen flees Syria in a wheelchair, reaches Germany, writes book". ABC Online. October 19, 2016. Retrieved 7 May 2019.

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