Mary O’Reilly from Baldoyle in Dublin has given Syrian refugee Wassim a room in her home under the Irish Red Cross-run Register of Pledges. Read about their experience below.
The Irish Red Cross is facilitating the placement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into medium to long term accommodation across the country and since August 2017, has placed 65 refugees into housing.
This follows from a request made by the Department of Justice and Equality to the Irish Red Cross in the autumn of 2015 to manage a register of pledges for accommodation, goods, and services made by the Irish public on a charitable basis. These pledges were made in response to the migration crisis in Europe and the Middle East. As a result, the Irish people made 832 pledges. Three quarters of these pledges were for accommodation while the remainder were for goods and services.
Altogether, under the relocation strand of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, 17 flights with 693 migrants have landed in Dublin, with migrants starting to arrive in large numbers in early 2017.
The Irish Red Cross also supports the arrivals of flights with basic supports, transport and medical assistance, where required. 693 hygiene kits and 33 baby kits have been distributed upon arrival while toys and books have been given to 177 children. 65 household kits have also been supplied.
The responsibility for housing the migrants who have received refugee status lies with the Government which is liaising with the local authorities, a number of housing associations and the Irish Red Cross, to co-ordinate a response. Upon arrival, asylum seekers reside in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) to benefit from English language education, orientation to Ireland, health supports and await the granting of their refugee status by the Irish State. Once migrants gain their refugee status the Irish Red Cross begins the process of placing them into accommodation. The focus of the Irish Red Cross in particular has been on a group of migrants identified by the Department of Justice which included some families, but mainly single people. The Irish Red Cross is utilising the pledged accommodation and private rented sector accommodation to house these refugees.
For the past few months, the Irish Red Cross has supported Syrian and Iraqi families and individuals to move out of EROCs into vacant-stand-alone housing, private rented accommodation and shared accommodation. So far, 65 refugees have been placed into accommodation across nine counties. By year end 31 December 2017, the Irish Red Cross is endeavouring to have 80 refugees placed into accommodation across the country.
This is a Health and Social Care programme and a new standard operating procedure has been developed to ensure our service works well for refugees, and members are kept informed about this work. Once a family or individual is about to be placed in suitable housing, the migration volunteer co-ordinators are informed, as are the relevant area and branch. Caseworkers work towards providing holistic support that links the refugees with vital services while the Irish Red Cross volunteer co-ordination team provides hands-on practical and emotional support in the introduction of refugees to their new communities - in co-operation with local Red Cross volunteers and service pledgers. The Irish Red Cross is also helping some family reunification cases.
According to feedback received, pledged accommodation arrangements are going very well. We profile one example below where Mary O’Reilly in Dublin gave a room in her house to Syrian refugee Wassim, via the Irish Red Cross register of pledges.
Welcome to Mary’s Gaff
“I have a house here with a spare room and I heard somebody say - and it was so true - the only difference between them and us is luck and it is, it’s just luck.” Mary O’Reilly is explaining why she decided to take 26-year-old Syrian refugee Wassim into her home. “It could have been me, you know, so it was conscience. I kind of felt they were running for their lives, I felt it was the right thing to do, and I’ve been blessed in everything I have.”
Mary owns a beautiful home which looks over Dublin Bay in Baldoyle, Co Dublin. Wassim has never lived beside the sea before and he says he likes to go outside with a cup of coffee and admire the view. Wassim has been living with Mary and Lolly the Tibetan Terrier since July 2017 and has really settled in. “I have two buses – the 32 and 29 – which go into town from here and the train station is very close as well,” says Wassim. “Mary’s house is very lovely, it’s by the sea and it’s very nice inside.” When he first arrived, Mary says Wassim was giving his family tours of her gaff via FaceTime. “He was walking around the house showing them the sea, showing them me!” she laughs.
Mary has a lot more to give than just her home. She took redundancy from working with Irish Life to look after her mother, but her mother died four years ago and Mary says “I’m here all the time so it means I can be here to help him.”
Wassim enthuses “for example if I have letters she tells me where to go and helps me with many other things.”
Mary is enjoying having an injection of Middle Eastern culture into her home; Wassim loves cooking and Mary “has” to sample all the food he makes, not least Wassim’s fatteh (a chickpea dish) and home-made hummus with Syrian bread. “I love different cultures,” says Mary, “and I would love to have gone to Damascus.”
Wassim comes from Al-Zabadani, a city located high in the mountains on the Lebanese border in southwestern Syria.
Wassim’s father ran a construction and agriculture business where they grew apple and peach trees. Wassim had been working as a manager with his father and was going to take over the family business but his home and the business have since been destroyed. In fact, the entire village they lived in has been destroyed.
Wassim explains the war took its toll on Al-Zabadani – war planes bombed everything so now “nobody lives in my city – all the houses and everything are gone.” There are 35 towns around Al-Zabadani and Wassim and his family left for one of these towns but then bombings took place there too. So he and his family moved to Lebanon.
The family left for Lebanon in 2013 and in January 2016 Wassim and his 17-year-old cousin Rami left Lebanon for Turkey. Wassim and Rami made their way to Greece via the treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean by boat. When they arrived in Greece they were in a camp for 16 days. They then moved into a hotel on the island of Samos before heading to Athens.
Wassim wanted to come to Ireland because he wanted to come to a country that spoke English. When he arrived, he stayed in Balseskin reception centre. He was then resident in the former Jesuit university – Hatch Hall, in Dublin 2 where he lived for a year, and he started to study English.
Wassim now works in an Arabic restaurant in Temple Bar. This not only gives him an income but provides him the opportunity to clarify some queries he has about the English language with other Arabic speakers. He looked for work in restaurants because he has college in the afternoons so he needs to work by night. Wassim is very keen to complete his school study because he wants to do a degree in IT but first, he needs to get a Level 5 in English.
Mary doesn’t think welcoming Wassim into her home is a big deal. “One lad said to me ‘good on you’, he said a lot of people ‘talk the talk but you’re walking the walk’”. “I don’t think it’s a great thing to do, I really don’t. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s my nature, but lots of people take in an Irish person. What’s the difference, are we not all the same?”
Wassim likes his new home.
“Before I came to Ireland I did’t know anything about Irish people but when I arrived I found Irish people are very friendly. A man on O’Connell St, started speaking to me because I was looking to the river - I was lost. He asked; ‘where are you from?’ and I told him ‘I am from Syria’ and he said ‘oh you’re welcome in Ireland’ and he hugged me. That was very nice, so after that I felt very lucky that I came to Ireland, because of the friendly people.”