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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 18 February, 2019
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A media scrum and fish and chips: Ibrahim Halawa is finally home

Ibrahim Halawa isn’t “going away quietly” – and his arrival at Dublin Airport today proves it.

WHILE YOU SPENT your day at work waiting for the clock to hit 5 or 6pm, Ibrahim Halawa was experiencing something he had dreamed about in prison for four years.

Four years of waiting for charges to be brought against him, of waiting for his trial to start, of waiting for his release. Four years of living in a cell, of not seeing his family, of missing his Dublin home.

The last time Ibrahim left home, he was aged 17. Now he’s an adult of 21 years – he has nieces and nephews he’s never met before, and some of his friends have finished college, where he has yet to start.

He’s also a media sensation, and his arrival today proves it.

Ibrahim Halawa 2 Ibrahim Halawa holds his niece while the media swarm around him. Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

Arrivals

The atmosphere in a quiet, downstairs area of Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 was quite a sight – media had poised themselves against a barrier in front of the elevators where Ibrahim would descend. His family brought pink and green “welcome home” balloons, supporters carried four-year-old Amnesty posters, and members of the Muslim community brought cameras to film the moment. Some of his friends brought a massive Irish flag.

“I have to go back to work after this,” one of them said, adding that he’d barely got the time off due to the short notice given (through a 4am Instagram post).

In the minutes before his arrival, there were a few “false starts”. Those who met Ibrahim Halawa before he faced the media – his family, friends and supporters – descended in the lift before he did, as cameras waited poised and at the ready.

His friends waited behind reporters and talked about how nervous they were to see their friend again. Others joked with reporters to let them stand in front of them for his arrival.

Some time just before noon, it was announced that Ibrahim would arrive in the next two to three minutes with his father, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and the Egyptian ambassador Sean O’Regan.

His family – his sisters, nieces and nephews – waited to the side to give the media a chance to photograph him. A baby slept in a carrier on one of the airport chairs, peacefully unaware.

The lift dings, the metal doors open, and before Ibrahim Halawa even has a chance to step out of the lift, the cameras are clicking nonstop and white flashes go off at lightning speed.

His friends and family cheer, Halawa punches the air and points and waves to them.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The second he turns to hug his family, the crowd of media that had held a solid line broke, and surged forward for a close up.

IMAG3666 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

Reporters in the thick of the media scrum asked Halawa about his reaction, his time in prison, his future.

He said that prison had been “very hard” and that after a bit of rest and a few days away with his family, he would work on the issues that had contributed to his incarceration.

“[There are] a lot of innocent people behind bars around the world, not just in Egypt. I’m going to help to get them released maybe around the world Irish people, even if they’re criminals and convicted abroad, I’m going to be asking them to come back and do their time in Ireland,” Halawa said.

A friend of Halawa approaches the group and asks someone to hand him an Irish flag. He wraps it around his shoulders and hugs people he recognises, as much as he can with so little space.

As he moves around the room hugging and greeting various people, the media entourage continues to encircle him, asking for his reaction to what is an incredibly positive event.

“I’d imagined this moment,” he says. “The Irish people have been sending me letters and people from around the world… it’s great. I’m very happy, it’s great.”

Some of his friends are crying, others are slapping him on the back. Ibrahim, meanwhile is thanking all those around him who helped support him and set him free – from the president, to the Irish government, to his family friends and supporters, his lawyers and the Egyptian ambassador, to name a few.

What will his first meal at home be, he’s asked.

“Fish and chips,” he says, laughing.

Brushing off the media attention, he turns around and picks up his niece, lifting her in the air and above the cameras, reporters and microphones.

After today, his sister Fatima says that they’re off for a few days away together. “It’s a closed event,” she says, while her younger brother is still followed by cameras.

Halawa is whisked away eventually, after posing triumphantly in front of a row of balloons that spell out “innocent”, and the journalists in the room evaporate.

Lynn Boylan, who’s been advocating for Halawa’s release for years, says that she’s not sure what’s next for the young man who’s been through a tough few years.

But whatever is next, she says he’s “not going to go away quietly” from the public eye, politics and human rights.

Read: ‘I’m very happy, it’s great’: Ibrahim Halawa has arrived home to Dublin

Read: Ibrahim Halawa: ‘Finally the day where I can see the sky without bars’

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