Carlow, Ireland: The Carlow County Development Board organized an “intercultural exchange event” for Arakanese Rohingya refugees in the second week of December at Seven Oaks Hotel, according to an Arakanese Rohingya refugee, Mohamed Rafique from Carlow.

The officials of the Carlow County Development Board warmly welcomed a group of 13 families from the Arakanese Rohingya community from Burma in a colourful and entertaining event, he said.

Hundreds gathered in the Seven Oaks Hotel for the welcome reception and ‘intercultural exchange event’ for the Arakanese Rohingya community who came to settle in Ireland.

The families moved to Carlow six months ago as part of a government resettlement programme in collaboration with the United Nations. The group had been living in terrible conditions in UNHCR registered refugee camps in Bangladesh before coming to Ireland, the organizer told participants.

Carlow, Ireland
Carlow Town Council chairman Des Hurley (Photo : The Rohingya Post)

The evening was a resounding success, with speeches from Carlow Town Council chairman Des Hurley, who extended a warm and sincere welcome to the Arakanese Rohingya group, and Mary Lee Stapleton, Director of Services at St Catherine’s Community Centre, who welcomed each person by name to rousing cheers from the crowd.

Mohamed Rafique (27), who has settled in Carlow with his wife and child, said Carlow is a different world from the one, which he knew in his home land and the refugee camp.

“Our country is very different compared to this country; here we can go anywhere like Carlow to Dublin and there is no problem. But, in Burma, to go from one village to another we need permits from the concerned authority, and if caught without it one has to serve a jail term or fine,” he said.

“We are unable to go for higher education, there is no facility for healthcare, there is religious persecution, forced labour, land confiscation and restriction in marriage where we were compelled to flee from our home land, Arakan State, Burma,” he added.

His new home does, however, present some difficulties for Rafique and his community. Obstacles such as language have proved a problem but with the help of the community and with their own hard work and perseverance they can now hold a conversation. The other major difficulty is the Irish weather.

“In Burma, we have three seasons and here there are four seasons,” he said. “But sometimes in Ireland, there are four seasons in one day only. It is very strange.”

To ease resettlement, volunteers were invited to help the Arakanese Rohingya families settle into their new surroundings, according to a resettlement officer, Clare Cody.

A husband and wife team Pat and Jean Cullinane from Carlow have found it to be a very rewarding experience. “We did this out of interest and because we like to make new people feel welcome,” she said. “I would say I have gotten more out of it than the families themselves. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch them settling into the community,” she added.

Clare Cody, who works as a resettlement officer with St Catherine’s in Carlow, says that the community of Carlow has accepted the new group and that they have a great network of neighbours. “Carlow seems to be accepting people really well and Carlow was already a multicultural area. They have a great network of neighbours and Carlow is their home now. They are coping brilliantly with it,” she said.

Rohingya: Carlow, Irelan
Participants enjoy with halal-prepared dishes in the event (Photo: The Rohingya Post)

At the end of the programme, a banquet was served of halal-prepared dishes, including lamb korma, and then a joyous evening of dancing and fun was had by all.

Today, there is another programme with Arakanese Rohingya children in the same hotel.