From Beirut to Birr, Ireland: The journey of one Syrian family to Ireland
Like other Syrian students in Lebanon, Maria Al Jamous spent her school days in the ‘second shift’. After the morning classes ended, she and another 150,000 Syrian children started the school day at 12 and worked through until 6.
“Now I’m home before 3, and the school is just behind me” she says, taking out her homework for the day. “This is the first place I didn’t feel different to the rest of the girls. Everyone from the teacher to my school friends is treated the same regardless of their status in life.”
Maria is among some 3,000 refugees that Ireland has welcomed since 2015 under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. Introduced in response to the unprecedented displacement caused by the Syrian war, it has given a new life to refugees facing heightened risks in the first countries they fled to. Only 63 per cent of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91 per cent globally. For girls the barriers are greater, with only seven refugee girls attending secondary school for every 10 boys. Covid-19 has exacerbated the issue. According to Save the Children, refugees – many of them girls – account for around 40 per cent of the 9.7 million children who may never return to school having dropped out during the pandemic.
“There is a crisis in Lebanon” says Maria’s father Sami. “The Syrian war has had so many impacts for the Lebanese. Here it is different. Ireland gave us the peace we were looking for.”
In December 2019, Ireland pledged to welcome a further 2,900 refugees over the coming 4 years through a number of programmes, including resettlement and the newly introduced community sponsorship programme. Designed to give local communities the opportunity to welcome refugees into their new homes, already 30 people have been taken under the wings of local community members in towns and villages across the country.
“Resettlement is a lifeline for refugees who face increased risks in the countries that they fled to” says Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “The number of refugees has almost doubled to 26 million in the last decade alone, largely because of the war in Syria. Addressing the conflict and poverty that causes people to flee should be our first priority, but Ireland’s firm commitment to refugees and the countries that host them is a powerful signal of hope at a time when global solidarity is needed more than ever.”
As the Syrian crisis enters its 10th year, humanitarian needs inside Syria remain at record levels with 11.7 million in need of some form of humanitarian aid and protection. Meanwhile, over three quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line in the countries they fled to.
Resettlement is a vital protection tool that protects the most at risk refugees. However, the number of vulnerable refugees being safely resettled to new countries has plummeted during the pandemic. For the first time ever, UNHCR together with the International Organization for Migration had to suspend departures in 2020. Overall resettlement numbers – which currently stand at less than 12,000 compared with 107,800 last year – are expected to be at a record low in 2020.
“Resettlement remains a vital alternative for the most vulnerable people”, said O’Neill. “UNHCR continues to support the Irish authorities in providing safe and legal pathways to refugees, just as they have for thousands of people from Vietnam to Syria who have made Ireland home.”