Saturday 24 August 2019

'Ireland, please don't turn your backs on people in Syria'

The Paris outrage should not stop Irish people's goodwill toward refugees, Razan Ibraheem tells Jonathan deBurca Butler

Stranded far from home: Razan Ibraheem came to Ireland to study — but now she has no home to return to
Stranded far from home: Razan Ibraheem came to Ireland to study — but now she has no home to return to

Jonathan deBurca Butler

Syrian woman Razan Ibraheem is exiled in Dublin and has been unable to return home for four years after a full-scale war broke out in her homeland.

Earlier this month, the university in her hometown, Latakia, was hit with mortars. In one moment, 23 people were wiped from the face of the earth.

"It was so close to my parents' house, they saw everything. I rang them and they were OK. But all these people... dead. These were young people who were going to be doctors and engineers."

Her part of Syria had been relatively safe until late last month, when the Russians came in and began using the coastal city as the launchpad for their air-strikes. It is now a rebel target.

Razan has not seen her home for over four years. She left Syria in August 2011 to study for a Master's Degree in English Language Teaching at the University of Limerick. She had spent 10 years in Kuwait working and saving to make her dream of further education come true.

When Razan arrived in Ireland the conflict in her homeland was only five months old.

Nobody envisaged it lasting so long.

"I never thought for one second that I was going to stay here. I already had a position waiting for me back home. Syria was booming. There were lots of opportunities."

By the time Razan graduated the bloody war had broken out. Airports were closed, roads were blocked, various factions took single towns and districts and fought hard to keep them. The country had descended into chaos.

"I had another month left on my visa here," explains the 34-year-old. "But I was in limbo because I couldn't stay and, at the same time, when I talked to friends in Syria they told me that there was no way of getting back - because the road from Damascus to Latakia was blocked. I had to stay here. There was no other way.

"I knew I'd be starting from scratch, from zero, but I told myself I could do it."

In Limerick she worked in a "wonderful Lebanese restaurant" and later got a job as a translator, and says: "In general, the reaction and engagement from Ireland has been amazing."

She is hopeful it will stay that way when more of her compatriots arrive.

"People have been very supportive," she says. "But it's really important, when Syrians come here, that they aren't left doing nothing. They need integration, to be introduced to Irish culture and the English language."

She is speaking from experience. Last year, Razan moved to Dublin after getting a job with Facebook. Soon after coming to the capital, she was joined by her parents, her brother and her sister.

"I was pleading with them to come over," she recalls. "When they arrived in May it was one of the best moments of my life.

"Seeing them again for the first time in four years was amazing. The five of us, together with my sister's new baby for the first time. It was a dream."

Unfortunately, it was a dream that did not last. After a summer in Dublin, Razan's parents began to feel they were a burden on her. They decided to return home.

"It was tough for them to get used to everything here," says Razan. "But there is also the fact that, back in Latakia, they were important people. They had their place in society. One day my father looked at me and asked: 'Who will look after our olive trees?'."

As Razan's parents returned to Syria, the epic scale of those who were fleeing became more apparent. Razan trawled through pictures of "dead children washed up on beaches" and saw "faces of men and old women broken on the inside". She tried to raise awareness here in Ireland and was invited to the Aras to meet President Michael D Higgins.

"I saw this picture of a Syrian man who had just arrived in Europe and he's carrying his child off the boat in Kos. You could see the whole conflict in his face - suffering, sadness, love, determination."

A few days later, Razan booked her tickets to the Greek island and signed up to volunteer with a Dutch NGO called Boat Refugee Foundation. Razan spent a week on the island as a volunteer.

Five hours after she was interviewed by the Sunday Independent news came through about the attack on Paris.

Razan is distraught

"The French shock and pain are universally shared, but none more so than by those who are victims of terrorism themselves - like us Syrians," she states. "We call on all peace-loving people to stand up to Isil's attempt to destroy the French and European way of life."

"I am aware that some of the attackers have been to Syria, and that at least one of them posed as a Syrian refugee. Surely, this calls for a more thorough vetting of refugees. But it is no reason at all for the racist backlash against those innocent people who became refugees to escape Isil terrorism in the first place."

Sunday Independent

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