Pandemic making it harder for refugees to rebuild lives

UNHCR in Ireland has said the Covid-19 pandemic has made it much more difficult for refugees to resettle here, with arrivals over the past two years being well below government commitments.

He said the Irish government is committed to resettling 2,900 refugees by 2023, but so far only 250 have arrived between this year and last year.

The United Nations has said World Refugee Day, which is celebrated today, should serve as a stark reminder to politicians around the world to do more to prevent and resolve conflicts and crises.

When Ahmad Muselmani, 26, left his hometown of Aleppo in Syria in his late teens, he had no idea it would take him five long years to see his parents and younger sisters again.

Their emotional reunification took place six months ago at Dublin Airport on December 10, 2020, with the help of the Irish Red Cross.

“I was so excited. I was shaking, I couldn’t wait to see them, to give them a hug,” he said of the moment his family left the airport building as he was waiting outside.

He said he faced an anxious wait for an hour as they went through security:

“And the first person I saw was my dad, so I just went to see him and gave him a big hug, and then my mom and sisters came after.”

The whole family now lives in the Irish countryside in Baltinglass, on the Kildare-Wicklow border, away from the busy streets of central Aleppo.

They found a house there, where the whole family could be accommodated, with the help of the Irish Red Cross.

Ahmad’s teenage sisters Rayan, 18, and Bayan, 15, attend the local school after starting their online classes due to school closures under Covid-19 restrictions.

As the Muselmani family faced a six-month delay in reunification, UNHCR in Ireland said many other refugee resettlements here have been completely put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Obviously, the pandemic has made it much more difficult for people to move and public health and travel restrictions have made it much more difficult for refugees to move for both family reunification and resettlement,” said Enda O’Neill, UNHCR Office Manager in Ireland.

“We call on the government, in the months and years to come, to urgently step up its ambitions, to make up for lost time.”

Representatives of the Syrian community in Ireland say they receive almost daily contact with families here in Ireland, who are eager to reunite with their loved ones.

They say the current reunification law is very narrow and excludes family members who are married, leaving some families here with only one member still in Syria or Lebanon, who cannot join them.

Some applied, but were rejected, from two different waves of the government’s IHAP humanitarian assistance program, which was last open for applications in 2019.

Applicants proposed to the program must be nationals of one of the ten countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Myanmar or Somalia, reside in that country or in a neighboring country and must be registered with UNHCR.

The Red Cross is now calling on governments across the EU to learn lessons from the pandemic to ensure reunification demands like Ahmad’s are not further complicated by border controls and other containment measures.

The Irish Red Cross said the Covid-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges to their work, through their migration service and restoring family links unit.

Spokeswoman Lynda McCarthy said: “There are still migrants all over Ireland who have been separated from their families by conflict, migration and other situations of violence.

“The Irish Red Cross, through its partnership with IOM, has set up a Family Reunification Travel Assistance Program to help migrants who have been granted family reunification but cannot afford the costs of family reunification. their family’s trip to Ireland.

Mr O’Neill said: “A selection mission to Beirut in March last year had to be abandoned due to impending restrictions and it has not been possible to return to carry out selection missions since then. “

He added that the next missions should take place in September and he hopes the activity will increase steadily from there.

A report released by UNHCR on Friday found that the number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution and human rights violations around the world had doubled in the past decade to more than 82 million in the end of last year.

“Today, every person in 100 is a displaced person, so despite the pandemic, people are increasingly being forced to leave their homes because of war and persecution,” said Mr. O’Neill.

Before he could bring his family to Ireland, Ahmad had to prove he could find accommodation here, so with the help of the Irish Red Cross he left Dublin to move into an unfurnished house in Baltinglass. , working hard to get it. ready for the arrival of his family in the middle of the Irish winter.

The whole family, including his parents Salaheddin and Amal, are slowly learning English and he said the whole family was very surprised by the welcome they received here:

“Day after day I settled my family here, made them use bikes and they got to know some people from Baltinglass. They were so nice to them. So when they came here, my family, they Didn’t believe it they would receive this warm welcome from the locals, so they were so overwhelmed. “

He has now applied for Irish citizenship and hopes to study computer programming at the Carlow Institute of Technology.

He said getting citizenship here would mean a lot to him.

“I have been in this country for over four and a half years and what I have accomplished here is much more than what I have accomplished in Syria, because what happened to me in Syria makes me lose hope of ‘have a future there. “

He said he would be forever grateful to the people he got to know in Ireland as well as to the government for allowing him to bring his family here. “Everyone has helped me bring my family here and settle in this country and rebuild my life here.”

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