Leonie Kerins, director of Doras Luimni
A SYRIAN refugee whose family has been resettled in Portlaoise is extending his free Arabic language classes to the public in Limerick to promote integration with the Irish community and foster greater understanding of his culture.
Radwan Abouhajar, a 40 year-old agricultural engineer from northern Syria, moved to Ireland three years ago with his wife, and his daughter, now aged six, while his second daughter, now aged 15 months, was born here.
He started free Arabic classes in Portlaoise last year, with a modest class size of just six Irish nationals, and they are now being extended to Limerick city, with the assistance of Doras Luimni, a human rights organisation which offers support to all migrants living in the Mid-West.
“The language classes are very basic – the alphabet, phrases, short conversation. But people want to know more about our culture, our history and our language,” said Mr Abouhajar, who was forced to leave his parents behind in Syria.
“Irish people want to build friendships with us. The reception has been very warm here. It’s lovely. Everyone is so helpful. I have never suffered any abuse in Ireland.
“The course has been very successful in Portlaoise. After the language classes, Irish people have watched movies with us in Arabic, and we have introduced them to Syrian food too,” he told the Limerick Leader.
In addition to teaching Arabic to English speakers, he has also been teaching basic English through Arabic to recently resettled Syrian families in Portlaoise for the past year.
His eldest daughter, who is in senior infants in primary school in Portlaoise, is helping him to improve this English, and also gain cupla focail as Gaeilge.
“Our children are doing brilliantly in Laois,” he said. “They are hopeful and that gives us hope.”
Leonie Kerins, director of Doras Luimni, which was founded 17 years ago, said that this is the first time they have offered the six-week basic Arabic language course, following its success in Portlaoise.
It is their hope, she said, to continue the programme depending on demand, while spaces are capped at 12 for the initial course in Limerick.
She added that while the Arabic speaking world extends to some 20 countries, and over 420 million people, the particular focus of the class is on connections with Syria through its volunteer teacher, who himself is a former client of Doras Luimni and now a member of its board.
Forty-seven Syrian refugees were resettled in Limerick last year, a further 25 adults and children are due to arrive in Limerick in the coming weeks, and 54 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Portlaoise.
Over 80 Syrian refugees are due to arrive to the county Roscommon town of Ballaghaderreen early next month.
Limerick City and County Council said that its partnership with eleven other State agencies and local stakeholders has led to the successful resettlement of these families, in association with the Department of Justice, An Garda Siochana, Tusla, the HSE, the Department of Social Welfare, and others.
Doras Luimni worked with almost 1,200 people from 86 countries last year, according to figures in their newly released annual report for 2016.
Out of the 86 different nationalities whom they worked with, the predominant five countries of origin were Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Brazil and Somalia.
The charitable organisation assisted a total of 1,126 people, including 597 new clients, and held 2,416 case meetings. They also supported 96 people in finding accommodation.
The most prominent issues which arose were family reunification, asylum applications, social welfare issues, citizenship applications, and housing supports, including supporting people moving from direct provision to independent accommodation.
A quarter of their workload relates to the increase in family reunification applications.
The Arabic classes will begin on Thursday next, February 23, in Central Buildings, O’Connell Street, Limerick, where their offices are based.
The one and a half hour class starts at 5.30pm, and while there is no fee, donations are welcome.
To book contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 061 310328.