Saturday 20 October 2018

How Irish donations are changing lives of Syrian refugees abroad

Jason Kennedy

Jason Kennedy

A Syrian refugee family have heaped praise on two Irish charities who they say have saved their lives.

Katar and Maged Mohamed fled their home in Damascus along with their three young children after a bomb reduced their health food shop to rubble.

This year, after spending a prolonged period in Lebanon before they were permitted access to Europe, the Mohamed family have settled in Arezzo, a medium-sized city in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Since arriving in Italy, the family have been given Italian lessons, paid for by Irish-based Irish O'Brien Foundation and facilitated by Oxfam.

Through these classes, it is hoped that refugees find it easier to integrate socially and eventually find a job, which they are legally entitled to do under Italian law.

"The classes are important," Katar told Independent.ie.

"We feel the importance of them every time we meet people. I still can’t believe how fast we were brought into lessons after landing in Italy."

While fleeing their war-torn home, Katar and Maged worried that they would be forced to live in squalid conditions while crammed in with other families. To their tremendous relief, they were moved into a private apartment, with regular visits from Oxfam officials to make sure they are comfortable and happy.

Despite the fact Katar is thrilled he and his family have escaped Syria, which remains the least peaceful country in the world, his heart is still heavy worrying about his family still in Damascus.

READ MORE: Special dispatch from inside Syria: Life after Islamic State

"It’s not easy to stay in touch with my family back home, because in their area, terrorists cut down any method of communication.

"It’s very difficult and hard to think about. I hope, some day, they can join us here."

Both mother and father now fully intend to raise their two sons and their daughter in Italy, but they won't forget where they came from.

"I feel like we belong here. I am happy to call Italy my home now.

"I feel like Italy saved me and my family."

Tuscany is one of two regions where Oxfam Italy is working to save the lives of asylum seekers. In Tuscany, 450 asylum seekers have been supported, while in Sicily, there are plans for assisting 1,700, of which 700 are children.

"Our programme holds itself to a very high standard," said Oxfam Italy's asylum support co-ordinator Zanobi Tosi.

"Fortunately, the worldwide rise in the alt-right has not directly affected asylum seekers in Tuscay, but there have been protests against organisations in charge of migrants in the past year."

There are a number of small ways Irish people can help refugees and asylum seekers this Christmas, according to Oxfam Ireland's Daniel English.

"For as little as €5, via our unwrapped range of gifts, you can buy services and help for refugees, for thinks like sanitisation, health and education expenses.

To find out more about Oxfam's unwrapped presents, visit here.

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