29/09/2015 Spotlight


29/09/2015

Hard-hitting investigations on the major stories affecting life in Northern Ireland. This edition looks at how Northern Irish people are responding to the Syrian refugee crisis.


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Transcript


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The scale of this summer's refugee crisis

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took much of Europe completely by surprise.

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It has stretched from the refugee camps in the Middle East,

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right through Europe,

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and now we're beginning to feel the effects here in Northern Ireland.

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Tonight on Spotlight,

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'I meet Syrians trying to rebuild their lives here...'

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That street had, like, four snipers on the same street

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and if they see anything, they're just going to shoot.

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..including one man who was trafficked here illegally

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to escape the war.

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And Declan Lawn has travelled to the refugee camps in the Middle East,

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from where the UK is due to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees

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over the next five years.

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They're just living in absolute poverty.

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As the debate rages

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about how many refugees should be allowed to come to Northern Ireland,

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we meet Syrian families, both here and in the Middle East,

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who have lived through the crisis.

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-RADIO:

-'We're taking your calls right now

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'on our top story on Talkback today. Are you worried?'

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'How best to respond to the refugee crisis

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'is a question that has been dividing politicians here

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'in Northern Ireland.'

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-RADIO:

-'Jim Allister asks how many of them are really refugees.

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'He joins us, along with the MEP, Martina Anderson.'

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'It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a heart for refugees,

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'but it does mean that we can't let our heart rule our head

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'and that we do have to be sensible in this matter.'

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'The humanitarian response that we have had from across Ireland,

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'England, Scotland and Wales and across Europe

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'shows that the people are ahead of the politicians.'

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The response from some ordinary people here has been loud and clear.

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Like in this shop in Bangor.

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Can I throw this at you?

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These volunteers are organising donations

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for refugees who have already made it to Europe.

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Are you delivering?

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-That's ladies...

-Ladies, OK, some toiletries.

-Yes.

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-Coats and jackets.

-Men's coats and jackets.

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Thank you very much.

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They've been overwhelmed by the response.

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Some wee kids have done a wee, just a wee gift box...

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This is "love from James."

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Just a wee shoebox.

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And there's a teddy and all in here. It's just really cute.

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Most of the donations are everyday basics.

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Scissors, deodorant, towels, shoes, men's coats and jackets.

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Two weeks after they launched their appeal,

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I called in to see how it was going.

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Wow.

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You've been busy.

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-So...

-I'll put the lights on for you.

-Please.

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-You've been here for two weeks?

-Yeah, just over two weeks.

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And there's hundreds of boxes.

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Well, actually, we've emptied this unit twice...

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-Really?

-..already, and we have other little store units.

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This is just one of around 30 collection points

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all over Northern Ireland.

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For grandmothers Elaine and her friend Marcella, it's all a bit new.

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-And did you...?

-I'm actually an artist. Marcella is a drummer.

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-So...

-This isn't your usual fare.

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No, well, we didn't expect it to be so mammoth.

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We were completely overwhelmed

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by the generosity of people.

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Was there a moment

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in all of this that you thought, I need to do something to help?

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Absolutely,

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and I think it was the moment that everybody had in Northern Ireland.

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Photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body,

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washed up on a Turkish beach,

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galvanised people across the world and across Northern Ireland.

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I have a two-year-old grandson, who is the light of my life

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and the moment that I saw Aylan...

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..um, on the shores...

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that was just too much to bear.

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It really was so powerful, wasn't it?

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Well, I think that little child's changed, changed the world.

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And that's his legacy.

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-That's it.

-It's actually quite humbling

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to see just how much effort people have put in

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and, you know, what they've brought to donate to people who are in need.

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They saw the same pictures on the news that we saw

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and took it as a call to action,

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that whatever they could do, they were going to do it.

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And all of this stuff

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will go to France, or Hungary, or different parts of Europe.

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But in a way,

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what's happening in Europe is just the tip of the iceberg.

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'Lebanon.

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'The front line of a refugee crisis

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'which dwarfs anything we've seen in Europe.

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'I'm on my way to the far north of the country,

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'to a town called Halba, near the border with Syria,

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'and a place where the nearby war casts an ominous shadow.'

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The Syrian border is just over in that direction,

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just a few kilometres.

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And it's obviously quite a tense security situation here,

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because almost everywhere you look, you can see Lebanese Army.

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In some ways, it reminds you of...

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back home, 20 years ago.

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You can't go too far without seeing...

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an army patrol, or being stopped at a checkpoint.

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'There are now 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon,

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'a country which had fewer than six million people to begin with.

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'The Irish aid agency, Concern, is providing help

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'to 150,000 people just in this district of north Lebanon,

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'and it's working in 135 different refugee camps.'

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We're on our way to one of them.

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-You can go in.

-Thank you, thank you.

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'The conditions are very basic.

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'The Lebanese Government doesn't allow large formal settlements.'

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The refugees here simply set up camp where they can,

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and the aid agencies do their best to support them.

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This place is home to about 25 families.

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'This is Osama.

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'In Syria, he was a builder with a good life.

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'Now he and his young family live here.'

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What is it like living here?

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TRANSLATOR SPEAKS IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

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It's so hard, it's the most difficult life.

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'Osama's wife shows me where they live.'

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It's dark in here.

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THEY SPEAK IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

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There's no power now.

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I can...there's no power on now? OK.

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Er, at two, there will be power.

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-Hello, Assalaamu Alaikum.

-Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.

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And these are your children?

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-Yes, and the third one is their cousin.

-Right, OK.

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Sorry, are we scaring you? I'm sorry.

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Do you find it very difficult living here with your children?

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TRANSLATOR SPEAKS IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

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Yes, in the summer,

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-they are suffering from the high temperatures.

-Yes.

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And in the winter, they will be suffering from the flooding

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-and the water...

-Yes.

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-..and the mud outside.

-Yes.

-MOBILE PHONE RINGS

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They're just living in absolute poverty,

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which for people who were former professionals, who owned businesses,

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who owned shops...

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it's just, just such an unbelievable change in their lives.

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'Back in Syria, Abdul was a lawyer, making a good living.

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'Today, he and his family can barely afford to eat,

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'and some of his children go barefoot.'

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HE SPEAKS IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

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You cannot move. It's as if you are in a huge jail.

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It's from camps like these

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in countries neighbouring Syria that the UK is planning

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to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

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I ask Abdul if he would consider going.

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He says he would only take his children legally, with safe passage.

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So, for now, these people are simply stuck.

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These guys are the same age as my children.

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This is just unbelievably...

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Assalaamu Alaikum.

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-Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.

-Nice to meet you.

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HE LAUGHS WEAKLY

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Oh, my God, it's heart-breaking.

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'Outside, nine-year-old Kassim shows me around.

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'We don't share a common language,

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'but in this place, we don't need to.'

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So, this is where the rats...

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INDISTINCT

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Yeah, yeah.

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-Do you play football?

-Yeah?

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-Yeah? You play football? Have you got a ball?

-Yes.

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THEY SPEAK IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

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-The, the red.

-All right.

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-I've got a ball but you have to share it with everyone, OK?

-Yes.

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Will we go and get it? Let's get the ball, I'll give it to you.

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But you must share it.

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OK? Come on, let's go.

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This is for you, OK? Yeah?

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That's for you and all your friends.

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THEY SHOUT

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-Oh!

-Merci, it's French.

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Oh, you're very welcome. You're welcome.

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There's not much room to play, but there's nowhere else to go.

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'Peter Anderson from Concern Worldwide in Northern Ireland

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'is used to humanitarian crises.

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'But even for him,

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'1.2 million people joining a country of six million

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'is staggering.'

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That's the equivalent of Northern Ireland taking in 400,000,

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or the UK taking in 20 million, and yet they have here.

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The Lebanese people, despite the poor infrastructure,

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the level of poverty here, they have,

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-they have accommodated these people, taken them in.

-Should we be...

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trying to arrange for more

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refugees from this part of the world

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to come to the UK and to Northern Ireland?

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Is that part of the answer?

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It is, yes. Um...

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I mean, the UK Government is a very generous funder of responding

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to the Syrian refugee crisis, um...

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and we do welcome the 20,000 they've said they're going to take,

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but that needs to be constantly reviewed

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and the UK need to take in their fair share of the refugees.

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Back home, others are arguing

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that Britain simply can't accommodate refugees

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on a large scale.

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The political debate is becoming about numbers,

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and what responsibilities, if any, we have to people here.

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Meanwhile, Lebanon is teetering under an almost impossible weight.

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Hi, Mum.

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Life is very different for this Syrian family.

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Food is ready.

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There, your sister, in here.

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They fled Aleppo two years ago

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and came to live in Northern Ireland.

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-What is that?

-Oh, salad.

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-Ah, salad. You want salad?

-Yes.

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Their four children are settled and doing well at school.

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I got 92%, but...

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..they don't say A star, they just say an A.

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-You are happy now?

-Mm.

-Good.

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Let's go over there, let's go over there to play.

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Dad Mahfouz now works in a factory.

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He was a dentist in Syria

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and they had a comfortable life until the war broke out.

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EXPLOSION

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DISTANT GUNSHOT AND EXPLOSION

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My husband, when he used to go to his surgery,

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it was very, very dangerous for him.

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I used to phone him every couple of minutes,

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please, where are you? Come back.

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It's bombing over, er, outside.

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EXPLOSION

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DISTANT SCREAMING

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With no electricity,

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and food and water in increasingly short supply,

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life became very difficult.

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Mahfouz found not being able to provide for his family unbearable.

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-They're eating!

-Look!

-Yes.

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Terrible.

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Those forced to flee the war

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ran the gauntlet of gunfire in streets like these.

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Our house was in the regime area,

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but was very close to the rebels' half

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-so it's almost like a touchline.

-Yeah.

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Er, it was really dangerous...

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and...

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lots of shells, snipers,

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gunfights.

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-How close to your house was it? How...

-Er,

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the rebels' barracks or check point was about, er...

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300 metres.

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The children missed a year of school

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as it was too dangerous to leave the house.

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Hamza was just nine and his sister Salam 14 when the war started.

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Every, like, whole minute, you hear boom.

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-Yeah?

-Bombing, yeah.

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And every time...

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you can't sleep.

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There's no way you can sleep.

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So, at night, you could hear the shelling and the snipers?

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Yeah, sometimes, like, maybe one week,

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you hear a rocket firing.

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-Yeah.

-Yeah.

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Beside us was a facility for rocket launching.

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Yes. Like, the snipers are quite far, like a bit far away,

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but I can hear, when he shoots, I can hear the, the sound...

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What's it like, the sound?

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It's, like, erm...

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It's the sound of, like, shooting, but it's so loud,

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and after that, you hear, like, something is...

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-The wind is whistling.

-Yeah.

-It whistles?

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Like a whistle.

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When the family decided to escape, they were luckier than most.

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The children's grandfather, Hamza, is Syrian,

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and their grandmother, Thelma, is from Belfast.

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They met in the '60s when he was studying at Queen's University.

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Their Belfast grandmother became their ticket to freedom.

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And my husband said to me that time, "You are the only winner card."

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While the bombing was going on around her, Abir rang the Embassy

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every day to try to get passports for her family.

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I said, "We are in darkness, no water, no electricity, no nothing."

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She said, "OK, Abir", and very big bombing was outside in my area.

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And she said, "What's that noise I hear?"

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I said, "That's bombing." She said, "OK, Abir, leave now."

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I went very, very dangerous way.

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I will never ever forget that time.

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We were shaking.

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Me and my daughter, we were shaking.

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SIRENS AND SHOUTING

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My mum told me, like, my face was so yellow. I was so frightened.

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GUNSHOT

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There was snipers in every direction,

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so we have to run as fast as we can for 5km.

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-Yeah.

-It was, like...

-No, 1km, I think.

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But it felt so long.

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So what was it? It was a road that you had to...

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'In streets across Aleppo, gunfire could come from any direction.'

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At this side of the street, and that street had, like, four snipers

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on the same street, and if they see anything,

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they're just going to shoot, like, anything.

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And my little girl on my hand, and the snipers everywhere,

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and my husband said, "Run, run!", and I said, "I can't run.

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"I'm still a woman carrying my daughter."

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And there's a good man, he said, "Give me the daughter",

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and he took the girl from my hand.

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We were very worried about my dad because he couldn't run quickly

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because he was, like, pushing the bags...

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and a sniper could shoot him at any time.

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My mum, every, like, 20 metres, "Where is your dad?"

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And when we got to the taxi and we were like,

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"Yay! We're out of here!" and the taxi told us,

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"Get in, get in, there's still snipers watching you."

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He said, "No, you're still not safe.

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"Just get in the car, close the door really quick,

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"cos we're going to go as fast as we can."

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CHATTER

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This summer, a tragic stream of people made the perilous

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and illegal journey to Europe.

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Few have been trafficked as far as Northern Ireland.

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But Rami is one of them.

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His wife and young children now live 3,000 miles away in Turkey,

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but they're never far from his thoughts.

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-You!

-I love you!

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RAMI LAUGHS

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Together, they lived through a lot of the conflict in Syria.

0:18:160:18:20

This shell landed in his garden.

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It didn't detonate.

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The family left Syria for Turkey.

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Then, Rami made the most difficult decision of all,

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to leave his family behind and be trafficked to Europe.

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He planned to send for them later.

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He made the journey at night on a dinghy with 30 other refugees.

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The trafficker pointed them towards the lights on a Greek island.

0:19:020:19:05

Who was driving it?

0:19:160:19:18

Just...

0:19:180:19:19

Oh, so refugees are steering it themselves?

0:19:210:19:24

Point the boat towards the light and go?

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Did you know where you were going, or did you have GPS?

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The traffickers made the equivalent of £20,000 from this one boat trip.

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Rami was then trafficked onwards to Dublin,

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and finally travelled to Belfast.

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He has now been given refugee status here,

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and has applied to have his family join him.

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He says he lives in hope.

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CHILD SPEAKS

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-RAMI:

-Bravo! Bravo!

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Lebanon's northern border.

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Straight ahead, Syria, a once wealthy and developed country

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that is now so devastated, that half its population has been displaced.

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So that's Syria just over there,

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so the refugees will come down into this valley and then climb

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this hill, and then they're in Lebanon, and often, they'll make

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that journey carrying their children

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with just the clothes on their backs.

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'I'm about to meet someone who did just that.'

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Hello.

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'This is Khaldye.

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'She lives here with her six children.'

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Her husband was a dentist in Syria.

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One day, three years ago, he simply disappeared.

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Like millions of Syrians around the world,

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Khaldye is now struggling to survive.

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She tells me that her two eldest children, boys aged 11 and 13,

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are out at work. The pittance they earn is what allows

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their brothers and sisters to eat.

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Her two younger boys were in school until recently.

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But she's just taken them out,

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because she can no longer afford the annual tuition fee.

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So, Khaldye just told me that her two sons

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have to stop going to school next term,

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because the tuition for the year is 100,000 Lebanese pounds each.

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But if you actually do that calculation in the exchange rate,

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100,000 Lebanese pounds works out at...

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about 66,

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which is, what, about £45, £50.

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And so for the sake of that sum of money,

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those two boys won't be going to school next year.

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'It seems that what we are now looking at here in Lebanon

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'is a lost generation of Syrian children

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'who will never again sit in a classroom.'

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Hello!

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'But there are some lucky ones.

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'By the side of yet another makeshift camp,

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'this tent offers hope for a few.

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'In the sweltering heat,

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'teachers from the aid agency Concern are hard at work.'

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Over here, these four to five years olds,

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if they need to enter school, they need to pay.

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And that's impossible for many of them?

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Definitely, it's very impossible for them.

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So we try our best over here

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to let them at least get some basic literacy skills.

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What are you teaching them today?

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Now, they have, they are supposed to have art, right now,

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but they are very happy with you guys here, so...

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-They're a bit distracted.

-Yes.

-Hello!

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Not just a bit - a lot!

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-Hello! Hello!

-Hello!

0:23:160:23:20

-Hello!

-Hello!

-Hello!

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The children in there are the lucky ones.

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There's about 2,000 children have been admitted

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to this programme run by Concern, and that's a drop in the ocean

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compared to the hundreds of thousands

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who have had their education disrupted.

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The big question for this part of the world,

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and maybe for our part of the world,

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is what is the future for them, where are they going to be?

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What is to become of them?

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Are they going to spend the rest of their lives

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living in settlements like this,

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or is there a chance of something different?

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-CHILD SINGS:

-# A, B, C, D, E, F, G... #

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Five-year-old Nadin is in P2 and is learning to read in English.

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# W, X, Y and Z. #

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Big brother Ihsan is the eldest of the four children.

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For him, as an Arabic speaker,

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starting school in Northern Ireland was a big adjustment.

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-Big, yeah?

-Yeah.

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It was tough at the beginning, for school,

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especially with a different language.

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You've got to translate everything.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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I had to translate lots of words and memorise them.

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-THEY READ IN UNISON:

-I will find...things...

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-that begin with my...

-With my...

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M sound.

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-Yeah. With my B sound.

-Yeah, with my B sound.

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And how did the kids find it going to class

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when everything was in English?

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First of all, it was very difficult for them,

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so they need double time for their studies.

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But they could do it,

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and they got very good marks in their A levels.

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-You're very proud?

-Yeah. Thank God.

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# Now I know my ABC

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# Next time, won't you sing with me? #

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Yeah. Nice.

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Just two years after coming to Northern Ireland,

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Ihsan got 2 A stars and a B in his A levels.

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-Hello, how are you?

-I'm fine, thank you.

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This month, he started at Queen's,

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the same university his Syrian grandfather Hamza went to in 1964.

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-This is my Queen's.

-Yeah, it's nice.

-Isn't it lovely?

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Yeah, it's lovely. How different did you find it?

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It is very much the same.

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All these buildings and the quarters

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are exactly what they were 50 years ago.

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-Yeah?

-Exactly.

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Hamza and his wife Thelma spent most of the past 50 years in Syria,

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until the war forced them out of the country.

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It is a sad thing to leave your country after 50 years.

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What made it very, very... happy occasion,

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although it's very sad,

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is you and your mother and your father are coming here

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and you are doing a course in Queen's.

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That made my journey a bit happier.

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I know you've got to Queen's, but I don't know

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-if you will get an Irish girl. They are good girls.

-Yeah.

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The question of how Northern Ireland should respond to the refugee crisis

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has prompted a lot of debate.

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-RADIO:

-'We have to feed them, we have to clothe them,

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'we have to educate them, we have to put a roof over their heads,

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'and if we don't have jobs for our own people,

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'how are we going to find jobs for these refugees?'

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'I would like to ask Martina, does she think the MLAs

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'should give their holiday homes over to the refugees?

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'They're not our problem.'

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'Why don't we let some in and we can help them

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'and just let them be on their way?'

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Like it or not, this issue isn't going to go away any time soon.

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European governments are now debating the numbers.

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But behind every number is a human story.

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In Halba, the aid workers are now gearing up for winter.

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For Concern director Elke Leidel,

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it promises to be a long and difficult few months.

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When we discuss the crisis, the refugee crisis in Europe,

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we need to see what is happening here in the Middle East.

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It cannot be that because there is now a crisis in Europe

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that part of the funding would go to Europe.

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We need the funding here.

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But what people here need most

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is an end to the war that is raging just a few miles away.

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We will not solve the crisis, not here and not in Europe.

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What is needed is a political solution to this crisis.

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And I think we need a solution very fast.

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My time in Halba is at an end.

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What's clear to me now is that there's another refugee crisis,

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beyond the European one, here, in the countries that border Syria.

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And it's even bigger in scale.

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The tide of refugees lapping at the shores of Europe

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is a big story back home.

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But it isn't the only one.

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This edition looks at how Northern Irish people are responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. Spotlight meets Syrians who have already arrived here, and visits others trying to survive in makeshift camps along Syria's border with Lebanon. The reporters are Alys Harte and Declan Lawn.


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