Drowned man was a Kurdish refugee


THE 21-YEAR-OLD man who drowned in the river Shannon during the recent fine weather has been identified as a member of the Kurdish community whose family fled their homeland during the Iranian Revolution and was given refuge in Ireland in 2006.

Jalal Azizi was born in a refugee camp in Altash, in the Al-Anbar province of western Iraq, along with his twin brother, Jabar, in October 1990, and spent much of his early life fleeing conflict.

It was only after his arrival in Ireland that he began to know “what life could be really like”, and he had been “very happy here”, his close friend Saman Karimi, a pharmaceutical science student at the Institute of Technology Sligo, said yesterday.

Kurdish communities who have long been persecuted for their bid to secure autonomy, extend from eastern Turkey to northern Iraq to northwestern Iran and northern Syria.

Ireland has been one of 18 countries which supported a UN-supervised resettlement quota programme, receiving several groups of Kurds from 2002 who have been housed in Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim, Mullingar in Co Westmeath and Dublin.

Jalal’s parents, Hussain Azizi and Khawar Allakarami, were forced to leave their home in the eastern Kurdistan region during the Iranian Revolution in early 1979. The couple and their family lived in continuous exile, seeking shelter initially in Iraq and then in Jordan after the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003.

Saman Karimi was born in the same camp as his friend, and his family also moved to Jordan. As he told The Irish Times, Altash camp was “a place where exiles were deprived of many basic human rights”, with no birth certificates for children or identity cards.

“In 2003 during the Iraq War, the families had to seek safer shelter to protect their children from the conflict,” he said.

They fled again to a camp in a “waterless and desolate area” of desert in Jordan, where they stayed in tents for 3½ years, he said. After they accepted the offer to move to Ireland, the families were temporarily located in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, and moved to Co Leitrim a month later. Jalal and his seven siblings in Ireland [another three are now abroad] attended school in Carrick-on-Shannon, and he had recently finished his education there.

“It is normally hard for a person who is new in a community with a different language and customs to integrate, to get to know a new culture and to attract people towards themselves,” Saman Karimi said. “But that was not that hard for Jalal as he was a happy, loving and enthusiastic person.”

He was enjoying the warm weather with Kurdish and Irish friends last Wednesday on the banks of the river Shannon, and got into difficulties after he decided to go for a swim.

Garda Water Unit divers and members of the Civil Defence searched the river and recovered his body last Thursday. It was taken to Sligo General Hospital for a postmortem examination, and he was then buried in the Muslim graveyard, after prayers, in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.