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Kurds in Ireland


Photo: Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
Carrick-on-Shannon, a small town in the west of Ireland, where a group of Kurdish refugees were resettled from Iraq over a decade ago.

No one should claim that adjustment to life in a completely unfamiliar world is easy, but when refugees have no choice but to try and when communities have many kindhearted people, it can work.

Here is a story of how Kurdish refugees adapted to life in Ireland, of all places — and how their new home adapted to them.

Megan Specia writes at the New York Times, “A bold black-and-red sign announces Jamshid Ghafur’s business — ‘Kurdish Barber’ — up a narrow flight of stairs just off the main street of Carrick-on-Shannon in western Ireland. …

“ ‘I am happy with this small business,’ he said as he gestured around the shop with pride. ‘I feel like home here.’

“Mr. Ghafur, 37, is part of a thriving group of Kurds who adopted this small town as their own after a United Nations-supervised refugee resettlement program brought them here more than a decade ago.

“Kajal Allakarami, 29, was 17 when she arrived. … ‘Maybe it wasn’t our ways, maybe it wasn’t our traditions,’ she said, ‘but the way they respected us was huge.’

“In 2005 and 2006, around 100 Kurdish refugees, most Muslim, arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon, population 5,000, plucked from decades of displacement. …

“The government provided social welfare and language courses for the adults, while the children enrolled in the local schools. Volunteers brought food and clothes, [Fawzieh] Amiri said. Among them was Nora Burke, a Roman Catholic nun, who visited Mrs. Amiri weekly to help her practice English.

“Still, the adjustment was not easy. Sister Nora said some locals resented the state-funded support the Kurds received.

“ ‘Carrick-on-Shannon was not prepared,’ she said. ‘They just arrived and some in Carrick thought: “God, who are these people? Where did they come from? What are they here for?” ‘ …

“But bit by bit, the Kurds established themselves. …

“For members of the younger generation, resettlement has been a complex process of not just understanding Ireland but of coming to terms with their Kurdish and Irish identities. …

“Some found the adjustment more difficult. Jabar Azizi and his twin brother were 16 when their family arrived.

“ ‘My age group, it was really, really difficult for us,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘Even though I was in Ireland, my mind was somewhere else.’

“Still, he made it through school, and credits the small town.

“ ‘They respected us and our religion,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘They respected the way we wanted to live.’ …

“But it took tragedy for the Azizi family and the rest of the Kurdish community to know they had found a true home with their new Irish neighbors.

“In March 2012, Jalal Azizi, Jabar’s twin, was swimming with friends in the Shannon river during a rare warm snap when he got into difficulty and drowned. The whole town was shaken. Shops shut their doors and residents lined the road to pay their respects as the 21-year-old’s funeral cortege passed by.

“ ‘To be honest, we didn’t expect that with our brother,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘His death really touched everyone.’ …

“ ‘When he passed away, we saw all the community from Carrick-on-Shannon gathering in my house,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘It is something I will never forget in the years to come; it is something I will tell my son about.’ ”

More here.

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