October 30, 2020

Syrian refugee injured in Beirut seeking visa to attend Trinity

A Syrian refugee badly injured in the recent port explosion in Beirut is fighting to take up a place at Trinity College Dublin later this month having been refused a visa to come to the country.

Ahmad Ourfali (38) fled the outbreak of civil war in his native country in 2014 and settled in the Lebanese capital where he works as an Arabic teacher.

However, while hoping to expand his English language academic studies, he has had to turn down a scholarship at University College London and will possibly be unable to attend TCD. In both cases, he says, he has been unable to secure a visa due to his circumstances.

“I haven’t given up yet, I want to fight to the end. But after this I’m trying not to think what’s the next step,” Mr Ourfali told The Irish Times from his home in Beirut.

He is currently recovering from injuries he sustained in the Beirut port explosion on August 4th that killed more than 172 people, injured 6,000 and left 300,000 homeless.

A teacher at the Saifi Institute, about a kilometre from the blast site, Mr Ourfali was conducting an online class when the incident occurred.

“I heard the first explosion. There were two; the first one was a tiny one and I told my students maybe someone is bombing,” he recalled.

“And then in less than a minute, maybe 10 seconds, the second one happened. I was on the floor bleeding. I couldn’t see.

“I sent a voice call to my wife to my wife and I said I didn’t know what happened, maybe someone is bombing, and I got injured. I said maybe I have lost one of my eyes. I said I don’t know if I can make it because I thought I was going to die.”

A man helped him to walk out into the street and to the nearby Red Cross building. He suffered facial injuries, a broken rib, internal bleeding and damaged spleen. He remained in hospital for a number of days but did not require surgery.

Although he had hoped to have reached Ireland by now to take up a place offered on a Masters in Language Education course, he was refused entry. A letter from the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi explained this was due to concerns over insufficient finances, a lack of evidence regarding his legal status in Lebanon and material supporting his academic qualifications.

His American-born wife Laramie grew up in Northern Ireland, but he cannot qualify for a UK spousal visa unless they live together in the country. His wife currently lives and works in Jordan, and the couple regularly visit each other.

Mr Ourfali believes he can clarify the points raised by Irish immigration authorities, and has hired legal support to appeal, but his immigration status history – having originally arrived as a refugee in Lebanon – has proven problematic.

He believes the main issue for people from Syria applying for such visas is a suspicion they will not return after it expires.

“Even if it’s better [there] now they don’t believe you will go back to Syria,” he said.

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