Wednesday 25 April 2018

We want to prove everyone is welcome in Ireland - Meet the Irish siblings helping to integrate refugees

Siblings Hanna and Yosef Phelan
Siblings Hanna and Yosef Phelan

Kathy Armstrong

Meet the inspirational children of a Palestinian refugee who are now on a mission to help Syrian asylum seekers to integrate into Irish society.

Hanna and Yosef Phelan are the driving force behind a recent tourist day out in Dublin for Syrian refugees and they say it's important to break down barriers.

The Dublin siblings organised the initiative alongside organisations such as The City of Sanctuary, The Irish Red Cross, The Silk Road Cafe and Friends of the Centre.

Hanna and Yosef set up an online fundraiser to help pay for things like museums and transportation and it more than doubled its €500 target within 24 hours.

27 women and children who have been living in the Abbeyfield Hotel building in Ballaghadreen, Co Roscommon took part in the event on July 15 and the Phelans say it proved that Irish people are eager to do something to help refugees.

Yosef (17) said: "We hit our target within a few hours and it just grew so quickly.

Hanna Phelan
Hanna Phelan

"I think it helped that it was one organisation running it but individuals."

Hanna (26) added: "The problem is so massive - the Syrian crisis and the broader refugee crisis - that people are grappling with where the starting point should be.

"We were throwing around ideas with family and friends and this just seemed like a good starting point.

"Our dad runs cafes and said it would be cool to set up some kind of collaboration between restaurants in Dublin and welcome centres and see where it goes from there.

"He started talking to organisations like the Irish Red Cross and The City of Sanctuary, we set up the Go Fund Me page and it just grew quickly from there."

Read More: Initiative to bring Syrian refugees on sightseeing days in Dublin more than doubles its target
The group enjoyed a free lunch and dinner at Dublin Castle, the group then enjoyed activities like shopping, a visit to The National History Museum and a trip to St Stephen's Green.

Despite the amount of support they received, Hanna admits they did receive some negative comments online.

She said: "We were getting so much support and then it was kind of disheartening to be honest see people saying that charity starts at home and someone left a comment saying, 'I'd love a free day out in Dublin but I'm Irish'.

"I think you have to take it with a pinch of salt and not take it to heart.

"You also need to understand that people might be coming from a standpoint that maybe they've come from a difficult time and feel they weren't supported by the government.

Yosef says that people were really supportive of their initiative
Yosef says that people were really supportive of their initiative

"They might see this money going towards refugees and them suffering as mutually exclusive, so I think there is a lot of room for dialogue there  and not to shut them out."

Hanna and Yosef's dad moved here from Palestine over 30 years ago and they hope his story may inspire others.

Hanna said: "It's great when refugees come here and meet dad, we're extremely proud of him and I think that he proves there is a life to be had in Ireland and if you choose to stay you'll be welcomed with open arms.

"He'll sit and chat with them and it's good to see how things can work out."

Read More: More than 400 refugees granted permission to travel to Ireland from Greece

Hanna, who works for a digital health start-up, said that she hopes to make the events a regular occurence.

She said: "It's something we're thinking of doing monthly, we were originally aiming to raise €500 but now we have something like €1,800 so that was incredible so there's definitely enough for another two or three.

"We've had people contact us who want to volunteer, restaurants and tourism companies who are interested in collaborating.

"This time we had 27 very young women and children but next time it might be great to bring older kids on fun days out.

"On a higher level we're thinking of setting up a database where we can refer back to these companies who are coming forward and volunteers.

"What's important is the dialogue surrounding it, these issues aren't solved with money but by opening up barriers and integrating people into communities and into society.

"I think there's room for more initiative o help refugees here and it's a learning process.

"The Syrian crisis has been going on for six years now and every day communities are learning different ways to welcome refugees, hopefully this will inspire people to do their own events."

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