Sunday 21 July 2019

Wexford has embraced Syrian refugees

Hannah Culkin
Hannah Culkin

Brendan Keane

The woman who oversaw the programme to integrate Syrian refugees into Co Wexford has said the people of the county fully embraced the initiative and made the people coming here very welcome.

Hannah Culkin, who is the Refugee Resettlement Manager with Doras Luimni, met with this newspaper to discuss the programme which is nearing its end after a two-year period that saw 215 people settle in Wexford from a country that has been ravaged by war.

Doras Luimni is an independent, non-profit, non-Governmental, organisation that works to promote and protect human rights.

Integration planning is a key component of what the organisation does and that was also a priority aspect of the work Hannah has done in Wexford over the last two years in conjunction with Wexford County Council.

Doras Luimni was set up in Limerick in 2000 and the first resettlement programme took place in Co Laois in 2015.

Now that the programme is winding down in Wexford Hannah said the last meeting of the inter-agency committee will take place this coming Thursday.

She underlined the fact that sometimes the general public have a misconception about refugees.

'They have been invited to Ireland by the Government's resettlement programme,' she said.

The inter-agency group in Wexford is composed of Hannah, Noirín Cummins, Sulafa Ali, Kamal Tribak and Mercedes Hoad Moussa.

'We won the tender to administer the resettlement programme in Wexford,' said Hannah.

'Our job is to support the families on a daily basis,' she added.

That support is provided in a number of ways and many of the things that Irish people take for granted are completely new learning experiences for the Syrian people who are here.

'A big part of our work is collaborating with partner organisations,' said Hannah.

In some ways the role of Hannah's organisation was to coordinate the programme between the families and services and for her it was a case of liaising between all of the people and organisations involved.

'With families arriving it's a case of helping them get to grips with their new surroundings and we mustn't forget what it is they're coming from,' she said.

'The things we take for granted like going to the supermarket, knowing bus stops and timetables, and making appointments, these are some of the everyday things we help them with.'

Doras Luimni also works with the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB) to give the Syrian people English classes.

Hannah, who is from Galway, was full of praise for the people of Co Wexford who she said made the refugees feel very welcome.

'Yes, there will always be one or two people who have concerns but the vast majority of people have been so welcoming and that's something that the Syrian people themselves have spoken about,' she said.

'The families have been warmly welcomed in Wexford,' she added.

'They say the people in Wexford people are always happy and smiling.'

The inter-agency group has also developed a team of around 30 volunteers in Co Wexford and Hannah said their input and support has been invaluable.

'We organise home visits too because that helps people get comfortable in their new surroundings.'

When the programme winds down it's expected the volunteers will provide ongoing help and support to the refugees as they integrate themselves in their local communities.

'We have a befriending programme and the volunteers go to some people's homes as well,' said Hannah.

The Syrians were also offered tutoring in English under the ESL (English as a Second Language) initiative and that was delivered by retired teachers and people who never did such work before but were trained.

'We are rolling out a family advocacy programme at the moment as well,' said Hannah.

For her the human aspect of the programme is always at the forefront: 'These are people and they had lives before they came here.'

'They are human beings just like us.'

Last month the first Wexford integration network meeting took place and saw around 20 different stakeholder organisations represented.

New Ross Standard