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Syrian backs proposal for Derry to accept refugees

Journalist living in city hopes families fleeing conflict can be taken in through project

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Proposal: Refugee Rami Zahra with son Joud Joe

Proposal: Refugee Rami Zahra with son Joud Joe

Proposal: Refugee Rami Zahra with son Joud Joe

A Syrian journalist living in Londonderry after fleeing across the open seas with his pregnant wife has described a proposal to bring 40 other Syrian families to the city from a refugee camp as humanitarian and moral.

Rami Zahra (39) arrived in Derry four years ago as part of a Northern Ireland-wide resettlement project along with nine other refugee families who now call the city home.

He left his home country on a small boat, braving the wild seas, and arrived first in Turkey before being selected for the resettlement programme.

Shortly after arriving in Derry, Mr Zahra and his wife Shireen became proud parents to Joud Joe, born in Altnagelvin hospital just three months after their arrival.

They have built a new life for themselves in their adopted city and Mr Zahra continues to raise awareness of the plight of today's refugees living in camps. He also provides practical advice to refugees who have successfully escaped to the UK through his work as a journalist and blogger.

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Rami with wife Shireen

Rami with wife Shireen

Rami with wife Shireen

He is lending his support to People Before Profit councillor Eamonn McCann, who wants Derry and Strabane Council to take in 40 more refugee families who are currently among thousands enduring incredible hardship in a makeshift camp in Greece.

Mr McCann said: "This is a very modest proposal inspired by the #400Welcomes initiative launched by women working in the refugee camps.

"Our proposal is that Derry City and Strabane Council attach its name to this initiative and then route our invite through the Home Office in London because that's what's required to make the idea into a reality.

"We in People Before Profit believe that the bulk of people in the council area will have no problem with this.

"Many, like ourselves in People Before Profit, would be happy to go much further. But we believe and hope that the terms of this motion will be acceptable to everyone on the council.

"The effect might be to encourage other councils, here in the North and further afield, to adopt a similar stance."

The proposal will be debated at a full council meeting tomorrow, but Mr Zahra is hopeful is will receive the support of councillors from the other political parties. He said: "I support an end to the crisis that is happening in the camps in Greece. It is a real humanitarian crisis that must end.

"If the council agrees and families arrive in Derry or elsewhere, that suffering will stop.

"I hope to hear the news that Syria is a safe country - but, in fact, this will only be after many decades unfortunately, but there are societies even in light of the Covid-19 pandemic who provide aid and receive refugees on their lands.

"This to me is a clear indication of the advancement of their humanity and morals."

Mr Zahra's job as a journalist brought increased danger to him and his wife in addition to the perils of trying to live in such a war-stricken country.

He said those who have fled and are now in the camps in Greece would also have escaped such danger.

Mr Zahra continued: "Syria in the foreseeable future will not calm down, a hot war and a cold war, in which gangs and bandits spread.

"Several countries came with their armies for Syria. A large spread of mercenaries brought great destruction with no apparent end to this war.

"So I hope that families now in the camps will be able to come to Derry and that everyone who arrives or will arrive here will treat the city with respect and appreciation and not forget the great help that others give.

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Joud at school

Joud at school

Joud at school

"In Derry they will find a safe new life for them and their families."

"So I hope that families will be able to come to Derry and that everyone who arrives or will arrive here will treat the city with respect and appreciation and not forget the great help that others give.

"In Derry they will find a safe new life for them and their families."

After several years in Derry, the Zahra family have grown to love the city.

He said: "The people of the city of Derry are really kind. Even after more than four years, I have not ceased to be amazed at the generosity of the people.

"Even when we were in Turkey, and a few days before travelling, the staff of the International Organisation for Migration met with us and began talking to us about the region, its history, its people, its economy and its geography.

"When they talked about the people of Ireland, they said, 'You are going to live with people who are internationally known for their good manners and their love for peace and this is where we found love and warmth that go beyond description'."

Belfast Telegraph


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