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Malala Yousafzai spoke Thursday at the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership to receive the Gleitsman Award

Malala Yousafzai spoke Thursday at the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership to receive the Gleitsman Award. (Screengrab/YouTube)

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai to US Congress: "Don't Greet Refugees With Tear Gas"

"Just be human," the Nobel Peace Prize winner says

Andrea Germanos

Rebuking the Trump administration's horrific treatment of migrants approaching the Southern border, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Thursday offered advice to U.S. lawmakers: "Don't greet refugees with tear gas."

Twenty-one-year-old Yousafzai made the remarks in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership awarded her the Gleitsman Award for her education activism. According to the Boston Globe, "Sixty members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, were in attendance."

The ceremony included a conversation with Samantha Power, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Obama administration. The Globe reports:

When asked by Power what she'd like to say to the members of Congress about refugees, Yousafzai paused briefly, before saying: "Firstly, don't greet refugees with tear gas."

"You should not assume it is these people's fault," Yousafzai said, before encouraging everyone to "just be human."

"We need to look at it from the human eye and be more welcoming and consider themselves as our brothers and sisters," Yousafzai said, according to the Harvard Crimson. "And let's understand that we are living on this one planet Earth, which is already in danger, which is already at a great risk because of climate change."

Among the lawmakers in attendance was Democratic Rep.-elect Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who called attention to the Malala Fund founder's comments on social media:

Another Democratic congressperson-elect in attendance was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who asked Yousafzai, "What tangible actions and roles can men play in their lives to advance the liberation and cause of women?"
"I think it's important for men to fight against the misogynist views... and believe that empowering women is not just giving something to women but it also contributes... to every one of us," she replied. Yousafzai added that it's important to "challenge the status quo."

Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her activism promoting girls' education—and her work toward that equity made her a target of the Taliban; members of the extremist group shot her in the head in 2012.

"Malala speaks powerfully to the strength and perseverance of women and girls who are oppressed," said David Gergen, professor of public service at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Center for Public Leadership in an earlier press release announcing the award. "Her remarkable story has inspired girls—and boys as well—to follow in her footsteps and has activated a generation of practitioners and legislators who are fighting for equality in their own communities."

Previous recipients of the Gleitsman Award have included African National Congress President Nelson Mandela in 1993; Maria Adela Antokoletz, Argentinean founder of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, in 1997; and International Bridges to Justice founder Karen Tse in 2009.

Yousafzai's "inspiring and passionate work on behalf of girls' education in Pakistan" brought her to the Obama White House in 2013, though not all of her comments to the president were deemed headline-worthy. She urged then-President Barack Obama to end drone strikes, saying such "attacks are fueling terrorism."  

The Trump administration, for its part, has drawn international outrage for, among other things, its recent firing of tear gas by U.S. Border Patrol agents against migrants including families with young children.

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