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The urge for survival runs deep.

Summary: That's what I've always loved about the Irish: The hardship that people experience makes them more tolerant and respectful of those who have also suffered

Christina CurranSpecial to Gulf News

Last Friday, I spent the morning with some amazing people in Ireland who are working with refugees and migrants across the North West. The conference was a chance for local community activists and those interested in or working with refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants to come together to discuss the various issues, specifically in Ireland, and ask what we can do to improve the experience of people arriving in Ireland.

As more and more bombs are dropped on Syria and other countries across the world and aid agencies warn of more countries sinking into drought and famine due to natural disasters, poor governmental infrastructure or climate change, we can expect more refugees to seek shelter in countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom. At the conference, there were various speakers from renowned charity groups and local organisations that work to help refugees. Also in attendance was Joe McHugh, the Irish Minister for Diaspora and International Development. We heard of the difficulties experienced by people coming to Ireland and the barriers they face settling into a new country and we spoke of what actions we could take as members of the community to address this. Next month, Donegal will welcome its first Syrian refugees and there are steps being taken to ensure that these people receive a warm welcome, despite the chilly Irish weather.

Ireland has a rich and varied history of struggle and the current movement of humans across the Middle East and North Africa due to hardship is a reminder that our ancestors did exactly the same thing. They left their homes and travelled at the risk of death for the hope of a better life. As an Irish person, the current crisis in the Middle East and across the world, which has created upwards of 65 million displaced people, reminds me of the struggle of my own people around 170 years ago, when famine drove more than a million people from the land. They were fleeing starvation and destitution due to a disease that had ravaged the cheapest source of food at the time - the potato. The blight forced them to abandon their homes and take to 'coffin' ships bound for the United States, Australia and England. Thousands died on those ships on way to what people believed would be a better life away from the tyranny of death and the tyranny of the British government, which played a significant role in the longevity and severity of the crisis. Those Irish that made it to their destinations alive were met with discrimination and prejudice and had to prove themselves in every way. It was a hard life of rejection and oppression, but, ultimately, it was better than the oppression they felt at the hands of hunger in Ireland.

Whatever the reasons for their escape, this urge for survival for ourselves and, more importantly, for our children, is one that runs deep and has been the basis of the existence of humanity since our earliest ancestors took their first steps onto new lands millions of years ago. We can't stop the juggernaut of the human race, but maybe we can control it better, which is something that is not being done at the minute. The difference between then and now is that we have the disease of self-interest as well as labyrinthine bureaucratic systems that don't care or have forgotten what makes us human.

That's what I've always loved about the Irish: The hardship that people experience makes them more tolerant and respectful of those who have also suffered. It is human to suffer, we feel like no other animal feels. It makes us who we are. To experience empathy is to be reminded of our own humanity and our own desire for a life free of pain. If we can give this precious gift to another human being, then I see no reason why we shouldn't.

Christina Curran is a journalist currently studying a Masters in International Relations at Queen's University, Belfast.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Article Type:Travel narrative
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Apr 29, 2017
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