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New Irish roots for refugee farmers

With support from the EU and UNHCR, Ahena farm in Co Mayo has offered a second chance to Syrian farmers forced to flee their war-torn home country.  

Syrian refugees put down new roots in Ireland

Foothills of fragrant olive groves blossomed on Abdul’s farm in Syria, before conflict forced him to flee.

Now resettled in Ireland, the 73 year-old farmer is being given the chance to put down new roots and care for an orchard of apple trees.

“Trees are like humans, they need to breathe,” says Abdul, tending to a branch. “So we prune them and let the air blow through, just like with olive trees in Syria.”
Abdul and fellow Syrian refugee Faisal took part in a ten-week ‘social farming’ initiative on Ahena Farm in Co Mayo, after being resettled to Ireland under a programme run by the Government in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Supported with funding from the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the scheme offers resettled refugees a chance to work and exchange skills with local farmers.

Abdul’s placement is one of several funded by Social Farming Ireland and organised by the South West Mayo Development Company (SWMDC), which supports communities and individuals across the west of Ireland, and has successfully delivered a number of EU LEADER programmes.

Margaret Leahy from SWMDC says there is nothing unique about the farms who take part in the scheme.

“These are ordinary working farms,” she explains. “They are not therapeutic farms or specially designed around one group of people. They are normal, honest to God farms. That’s why they work so well.”

Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland says positive experiences of refugee integration are often most visible at the local level – at the school gates, in work, on sports pitches or in community halls.

“The social farming initiative is a great example of how rural communities across Ireland go to great lengths to reach out to their new neighbours and give them an opportunity to participate in, and contribute to community life,” he adds.