Before the weekend Griffith College invited it’s students to a screening of the documentary Born in Syria, directed by Hernán Zin. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Erin Kilbride, Media Coordinator at Front Line Defenders, Tim Hanley, Campaigns Officer at Amnesty International Ireland, and Lead on the Welcome Campaign for Refugees, Maria Hennessy, Assistant Protection Officer at UNHCR Ireland, Rory O’Neill, Integrations Projects Manager at Irish Refugee Council and Calvin James, Founder and Project Manager at Syrias Vibes.
Dr. Thamil Venthan Ananthavinayagan, lecturer in Law at Griffith College, started by introducing the movie:
As he mentions, the documentary follows seven young children from Syria and their escape through Europe in a heart-wrenching depiction of ‘the refugee crisis’ from the point of view of the children and their families (the documentary is shot in 2015 and 2016) and deals with the misconceptions many that fled from the war zone had, that the struggle would be over as soon as they got to shore in Greece.
Opening the panel discussion after the documentary was Maria Hennessy from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ireland. She started by addressing what we had just seen: “It is a very powerful movie and I think the main thing we can take away from it is the resilience of the young people. Their experiences also showed the different approaches that different European states were taking”.
Throughout the documentary and while following the refugees’ journey through Europe, Zin incorporates official statements from European leaders like the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to illustrate the different state’s stands on the crisis. Hennessy continues:
“I don’t always like the reference to ‘refugee crisis’, I think it was a crisis in terms of solidarity and responsibility sharing.”
Hennessy further explained “If we look at the global figures for example that UNHCR gathers, right now the figures have gone up even further. There are now 68.5 million people forcibly displaced, 25.4 million of them are refugees. Despite what sometimes comes across in the media that Europe is hosting the majority of refugees, you will see that 85% are outside Europe. Yet Europe looked at it like it was a crisis for Europe to deal with”.
An example of what UNHCR works with at the moment is to evacuate refugees from detention centers in Libya, living under very harsh conditions. Hennessy urges for other countries to continue helping:
“It’s really critical that countries continue to resettle people in Libya, Niger is hosting some for a short time, but the situation in Libya at the moment is very critical in terms of evacuating people.”
When asked about what the integration for refugees and asylum seekers into the Irish society looks like, and what the role of the Irish Refugee Council is, Rory O’Neill answers “we work with people from the very time they arrive in the country and sometimes even before that. We help them then in the preparation system while they are waiting for a decision and what they call papers, where it could be anything up to three or four years”
“Once they get those papers we would work with them to integrate them into the Irish society. People make the journey and once they arrive here it’s a new journey to get through all the processes of integration. Many, as we saw, think they are safe once they get to land but still every step of the way is a barrier in other aspects of the journey. Integration is the final aspect, but could take quite a long time”.
Tim Hanley from Amnesty International circled back to the situation in Libya and what Amnesty hopes happens with the current deal EU has with Libya. “We’re calling for these cooperation systems to be changed so that there is a focus on human rights-based approaches, and a focus on the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants, more monitoring and accountability, and for UNHCR mandates to be recognized. For allegations of torture and abuse to be investigated fully in fair open and transparent trials”.
Erin Kilbride from Front Line Defenders touched on the role of human rights defenders in Syria “we work for protection and security for human rights defenders, we’re based in Dublin but work internationally”. She talked about the threats and dangers of human rights defenders face in Syria and went back to the issue of solidarity and “the criminalization of solidarity”:
“When you start to see things like handing out food being criminalized and people being stopped for handing out clothing on beaches, that’s quite scary”
Kilbride also talked about volunteers and human rights defenders in many cases being threatened with human trafficking charges “In addition to what that can mean in terms of detention and prison time, it’s also an incredible form of defamation to be accused of human trafficking”.
Calvin James Founder and Project Manager at Syrias Vibes rounded up the panel talk, before the floor was open for Q&A’s, by giving the audience some insight into what he sees happening in Syria (and Iraq) today and that this crisis is far from over.