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How we're responding to the greatest crisis of our generation

Exploring integration and extremism in the context of the refugee crisis.

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THE CRISIS OF our generation. An unfixable problem. Not our problem.

The refugee and migrant crisis has been called many things by many people.

Regardless of where you stand, one thing is clear: the world is in a state of flux.

During the course of this week, TheJournal.ie will publish Radical Pathways – a multimedia series which explores integration, radicalisation and Islamophobia in the context of the refugee crisis.

642589092 Refugees from Syria who were rescued from a wooden boat sailing 60km north of Sabratha, Libya Source: David Ramos/Getty Images

There are currently more displaced people than in the aftermath of World War II. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

In 2015 and 2016, more than one million refugees and migrants arrived in the European Union, most of them fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria. Thousands more have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established in September 2015 to, in the government’s words, respond to “the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa”.

Under this programme, the government has pledged to accept 4,000 people into the State. Some 1,040 people were to come to Ireland under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme, currently focussed on resettling refugees from Lebanon.

From 2014-2018, 834 Syrian refugees arrived in Ireland. Since 2011, just over 1,000 people from Syria have applied for asylum or international protection here. A further 10,800 people from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan have applied for asylum here since 2011.

Radicalisation

Given the number of terrorist attacks that have happened in Europe in recent years, concerns have been raised about who is entering Europe and the fact that some people with ill intentions may abuse the system.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told TheJournal.ie Ireland has “a record of living up to its humanitarian commitments with regard to persons seeking international protection from conflict or oppression”.

“This has been to the fore in Ireland’s participation in the EU’s resettlement and relocation programmes put in place to help to address the migration crisis along the Mediterranean.”

The spokesperson noted that, as part of Ireland’s response, An Garda Síochána has “put in place arrangements with its international counterparts to carry out checks in respect of the persons arriving in Ireland under the programme”.

In general terms, a key aspect of Ireland’s general immigration arrangements is to maintain in place appropriate and proportionate measures to support community safety and security while facilitating lawful immigration to the State for a range of purposes.

“The vindication of fundamental rights is an integral part of our immigration processes and there is no question that the procedures operated by the Department and An Garda Síochána would contemplate discrimination on the grounds of faith. There is an obligation on all persons admitted to the State to abide by the laws of the State.”

Some organisations have highlighted that the negative treatment of refugees and asylum seekers may make them more susceptible to radicalisation.

A report from the Council of Europe last year warned that the “abysmal” treatment of refugee children in particular could increase the danger of them becoming radicalised or involved in crime later in life.

Tomáš Boček, the Council’s Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees, previously told the Guardian: “What these children are going through will define who they will become. And it will also define, in some respects, our common future.

“I saw children who had become upset, yes, and angry. But also apathetic. It makes these children more vulnerable. Perhaps to radicalisation.”

FRANCE-BRITAIN-MIGRATION-CALAIS A group of people set up camp after the police dismantled their previous one on the outskirts of Calais, France last week Source: AFP/Getty Images

One Syrian refugee living in Ireland told TheJournal.ie extremism is “very rare” but that he understands why some people might “lose control”. He said refugees often face trauma and death in a way that other people cannot understand.

“Your cousin dies, your friend dies, they are killed, your brother, your son. You’ve left your family in Syria, where there is a war…

“Some people face very big problems like that. They feel down, they’ve lost everything. It’s stress, stress, stress.

They face mental problems. They face unstable thinking … Some people, they lose control.

Also speaking to TheJournal.ie, a Sudanese asylum seeker said people who already believe in radical views “may turn to extremism” if they feel ostracised from Irish society.

“Authorities here need to speed up the process of integrating and rehabilitating those people, teaching them western values and norms. This will allow us to take a huge step forward in fighting extremism and violence in the west.”

This man, who is Muslim himself, wanted to stress that while such a scenario could happen it would be rare. He also said it would be very unfair and inaccurate to paint a large group of people in this light.

Another Syrian refugee living here told us: “I escaped danger and war just to have a normal sort of life, not to engage in any problems.

“I’m living [in Ireland] now and I care that the image of refugees will be good here.”

He said it’s important that European countries work with each other in terms of monitoring people who enter the continent, stating: “There are always dangerous people, regardless of religion.”

Of course, radicalisation and extremism is often the very thing refugees and migrants are escaping when they flee their home countries.

Escaping the Taliban

Gulwali Passarlay was just 12 years old when his mother paid smugglers $8,000 (almost €9,000) to bring him and his brother from Afghanistan to Europe in 2006.

Passarlay’s father and grandfather were both killed by US forces, and the Taliban was putting pressure on the family for the boys to join the terrorist organisation.

“We were actually forced to flee, we didn’t have a choice. The decision was made by my family, particularly my mother, to send me and my brother away because of the conflict, because of the war.

“One of the main reasons we had to leave was because the Taliban wanted us to join them to fight to take revenge for our family members, but also to fight a so-called Holy War.”

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films

Passarlay, 23, said he wanted to stay in his own country, but his mother insisted he and his brother leave because she “thought that we won’t be able to survive, it was just not safe for us”.

Passarlay was separated from his brother almost immediately. It took him several attempts across the course of a year before he reached the UK.

Recalling his journey, he said he experienced “very inhumane conditions” – being housed in chicken coops and hidden inside seats on trains. He was arrested and imprisoned along the way, and had to jump from a moving train in Bulgaria, badly injuring his legs.

Speaking about the smugglers, Passarlay said: “They didn’t treat me as a child, they didn’t even treat me as a human, I felt sub-human.”

Passarlay said he wanted to get to England because a smuggler told him that was where his brother had ended up. He eventually made it to the UK via Calais in France, in the back of a banana truck.

Suicide attempts

When Passarlay finally arrived in England, he said authorities refused to believe he was 13 or from Afghanistan. He looked older, with Passarlay saying the trauma of the previous year had aged him.

He was housed with adult men for two years, describing the process of seeking asylum as “soul-destroying”. He said he, like many others, received little support in terms of mental health. At the ages of 14 and 15 he twice attempted suicide, seeing no way he could make a life for himself.

Passarlay saw some young asylum seekers turn to radical mosques for a sense of belonging and purpose. He said he avoided this fate thanks to education. When teachers convinced authorities of his true age, he was allowed to attend a mainstream school. He was eventually fostered at the age of 16.

Suicide attack in Kabul Afghan security officials take security measures at the explosion site in Kabul, Afghanistan last Friday Source: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“I spent two years with a really wonderful foster family which give me a home and warmth and family, which I needed the most.”

Passarlay did well in his GSCE exams before getting a degree in Politics and International Relations at the University of Manchester, something he “never imagined” could be possible for someone from his background.

‘I saw death with my own eyes’

Passarlay said smuggling was big business back in 2006 and even more so in 2018.

“I would describe them as a kind of business … they had the CEO and they had the directors and representatives, facilitators, guides.”

He said the smugglers didn’t care if people lived or died.

“I saw death with my own eyes. If the Greek coast guard had not arrived, within minutes our boat was about to capsize and we would have been dead.

“There were 120 people in the boat designed for about 20 people. And we were in the sea for about three days and three nights … I had never been in the sea before. It was terrifying, it was really, really scary.

“That’s why I campaign for refugee rights, and safe and legal routes, because I know things have got worse now. We send ships back to Turkey and back to Libya and that doesn’t solve the problem.”

Passarlay said it’s wrong to assume that most people fleeing countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have a choice.

“You don’t have a choice, bombs are coming from the sky or there are beheadings and all sorts of oppression and injustice and persecutions happening … it keeps me awake when I hear those stories.”

He said these people are just that: people. Not statistics. “[They are] human beings, just like you and me, with hopes, ambitions and dreams.”

‘An easy target’

Passarlay said, while a small minority of refugees and asylum seekers may be at risk of becoming radicalised, it is unfair and inaccurate to portray them all in this way.

“Asylum and refugee issues are already portrayed in such a negative way, so I don’t think refugees and asylum seekers just become radicalised, but I think they are an easy target.

“It’s not really about mosques and preachers, but we’re living in a globalised world – everyone has access to social media and they see things, whatever happens in Palestine or Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan and other places. It makes them angry.”

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST Afghan investigators carry the dead body of suicide attacker who blew himself up in a Shiite area of Kabul last week Source: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

In his experience, Passarlay said refugees and asylum seekers “owe so much” to the country they arrive in and “will do anything they can to contribute”.

Passarlay said education is vital to integration and changing “extreme views”.

“For me integration is about giving people opportunities, giving them a chance to get education, get jobs, contribute to society, become active and play their part.”

Passarlay said mental health support is also vital to refugees and migrants, particularly those who come from regions of conflict.

‘Kabul is in flames’ 

Passarlay has never been back to Afghanistan, where his mother and other family members still live. One day he would like to return to help rebuild his country, but he doesn’t see the war ending any time soon.

He said, because it’s in the news less now, many people assume Afghanistan is safer. However, attacks and bombings are still a regular occurrence.

“People sometimes just assume that it’s not a war zone, but it’s nothing but a war zone … Kabul is in flames,” he told us, noting that over 17,000 people were killed or injured there in 2017. More than 110,000 Afghans, both civilians and soldiers, are estimated to have been killed since the conflict began in 2001.

Passarlay said that while ISIS has been losing ground in Syria and Iraq, they’re “regaining control” in parts of Afghanistan.

“First we have the Taliban and then it was Al-Qaeda and now we have Daesh (ISIS) … They are doing things beyond my understanding and beyond humanity.”

He said the US and countries in Europe “have a moral responsibility to welcome refugees and treat them with respect and dignity”.

“I would not be here if Britain and America didn’t bomb my country. Other people leave Iraq and Syria and Libya and other places because the West has been intervening, and I think people need to realise that … Intervene in a different way: send doctors and teachers in, health professionals in, engineers, not soldiers.

“You can’t just go and bomb somebody’s country and then wash your hands of responsibility … when their refugees come here you can’t just say you don’t want them.”

Over the coming days, TheJournal.ie will explore the themes of radicalisation, Islamophobia and integration. The series, Radical Pathways, will look at the situation in Ireland, as well as what we can learn from the experiences of other countries, particularly the UK and Denmark.

Videos produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films 

Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund and the Tony Ryan Trust

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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