Celebrating Cultures, Promoting Integration
Arabic has at least eleven words for ‘love’ and each of them convey a different stage in the process of falling in love. The word ‘hawa’, for example, describes the initial attraction or inclination of the soul or mind towards another. The term comes from the root word ‘h-w-a’ – a transient wind that can rise and fall.
I’m sitting in the Davenport Hotel chatting with Razan Ibraheem, she’s sipping her green tea calmly, waiting for me to press record. With rainy conditions outside the window, I had reserved a cosy area to learn a little more about her. I was eager to find out how her journey to Ireland began.
I was told every Arabic name has meaning, they don’t name people randomly or by accident. Ibraheem’s first name Razan comes from serenity, a state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
Razan Ibraheem is a Syrian news journalist with Storyful. Specialising in verifying social media content and videos from countries in the Middle East such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Ibraheem also speaks regularly in the media on journalism, refugees and the situation in her own country, Syria. Involved in story and location verification with partners including Channel 4, Al Jazeera, Google, The Times and The Washington Post.
She reminded me of her hometown, Latakia, which was hit with mortars. And tried to place me in the moment when 23 people were wiped from the face of the earth.
Ibraheem came to Ireland in 2011, but she never planned to stay here. She grew up in Latakia, a beautiful coastal city. Both her parents were school principals, and they always believed in education. They told her that it could open doors for her. Education is free in Syria, so no matter what background you have, everybody is equal in the classroom.
“Due to the escalation of the war in Syria, which wasn’t expected, I applied for asylum in Ireland. I got refugee status and was a refugee for three years and I got my Irish Citizenship in 2017.”
“At the beginning I was asked if I wanted to stay in the direct provision centre, or did I have a place? It was only because a friend helped me, I was lucky, she let me stay at her place. But at that point in time, I didn’t know what direct provision was, or what it was to be a refugee.”
“I had originally applied for a student visa at the time of the revolution, there was no instability, or indication of war, just protests in the streets. I had never expected to get into Ireland.”
First exposed to Irish literature in university in Latikia, she went on to study Waiting for Godot and Ulysses. Then she wanted to do a master’s degree abroad, and to do it in an English-speaking country to improve her English. She also wanted to be exposed to different cultures and learn about other people, but she didn’t have any money. While teaching English and saving for 10 years, she then had enough money, and then successfully applied to study at the University of Limerick.
Five months after the conflict started in Syria, she came to Ireland. At home, there was fear everywhere. Not knowing what was going to happen, but you could expect something bad could happen at any time.
When asked to reflect on Syria, Ibraheem shared the following
“I’ll never forget the sounds of bombs and bullets. It still haunts me. I was very thankful that I got a visa to come to Ireland. It changed my life. I didn’t know anybody in Limerick, but the people were so welcoming. I wish my parents weren’t still there. When I finished my master’s, the violence in Syria escalated, and I couldn’t go home. I already had a job waiting for me over there. I was in a limbo. It was one of the most difficult periods in my life here. Then I decided that I would start from zero. I had no other option. I knew I had to be strong.”
She then went on to tell me that she was eventually able to bring my brother here – thanks to the Syrian Humanitarian Administration Programme (SHAP). “My sister had been in the UK, and she joined us too. I was separated from my parents for five years, but eventually they came over on holidays to see us. I wanted them to stay here, but I couldn’t uproot them. They told me that they want to die in Syria. I miss them a lot, but I talk to them almost every day. I wish they could be around me now, I miss them very much.”
Of course Ibraheem hasn’t forgotten her home country
“When I finish work, I try to have a space for me and the people I love. Also, I try to do something positive to promote the beauty of the Syrian culture. We planted some jasmine trees in parks in Ireland to symbolise Irish-Syrian friendships. Jasmine is huge in Syria. It’s about getting away from the war, because we Syrians are happy people. Even though we live difficult lives, there is happiness inside.”
Ibraheem was awarded Irish Tatler’s International Women of the Year in 2016 and she has also been involved in projects with UNICEF, Amnesty International, Brighter Futures and Immigration Council
“For two summers, I worked as a volunteer on the Greek island of Kos, meeting boat refugees. I was watching the news in Dublin, and I thought, ‘I can’t only be a witness’. I decided that I had to do something to help these people. It was one of the most difficult, heart-breaking, but positive experiences. We would go down to the beach at 2am and wait for them to arrive. You saw the sadness in their faces – all that trauma. And what they had been through was unbelievable. We would hug them, and then give them food and dry clothes.”
“The majority of these people came from Syria. Before I brought my brother to Ireland, he was thinking of getting on a boat, too. One day I saw somebody I knew on a boat. It was very depressing. He was an interior designer, and he designed maybe 10 of the top restaurants in my city, but he fled. He knew my friends and my brother.”
As a Syrian living in Ireland, Ibraheem has experienced some racism, but more offline than on.
“I had a friend who lived here for a while, he told me that the Irish are different.
I didn’t experience racism here in Ireland. I always felt that there were people to help and support me. But definitely on social media I would experience some racism. People behind fake names, fake profiles, fake photos, they feel they can attack anybody.
There was one person that tried to guess my origin; he told me that ‘we don’t want immigration’. Instead of reacting, I talked to him, I’m not sure his viewpoint changed, but he smiled as we parted ways.
I get messages on social media, ‘get out of our country’, ‘you’re milking our system’.
I replied to one message and asked this person to meet for coffee, he was stunned.”
Unlike in the UK, racism wasn’t a big issue in the recent general election here, as Ibraheem points out.
“I think the evidence of integration is visible in part of the polls. Immigration was one of the lowest interests or reasons in the exit poll. Which is a great sign, it was one percent, and it’s sending a huge message that people want to make their country better.”
In November 2018, her niece Serene started to sing in Irish as they were travelling across Dublin in her car. Amazed by her skills, Ibraheem recorded and shared the video on Twitter, reaching nearly half a million views and seventeen thousand shares. That is truly the happy beginning of integration in Ireland.