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'I've seen people getting killed in front of my eyes'

Refugees Tareq Altorok and Inza Bamba, who both represented Ireland at the Unity Cup this week, chat to The42.

Tareq Altorok, originally from Palestine, represented Ireland at the Unity Cup this week.
Tareq Altorok, originally from Palestine, represented Ireland at the Unity Cup this week.

INZA BAMBA was just 16 years old when he arrived in Ireland following a turbulent childhood.

Born in the village of Bléssegué situated in the north of the Ivory Coast, the family moved to another village, Wora, a couple of years later.

Tragedy struck when Inza’s father passed away around the time he finished primary school.

Inza’s widowed mother consequently could no longer afford the fees necessary to fund his education and so he was forced to drop out of school and instead, worked in a series of jobs, including as a welder, shop assistant and farmer.

At around the age of 14, Inza left the Ivory Coast for Libya following the death of his mother.

While working as a welder, he saved up money and ultimately boarded a boat due to go to Italy in 2018.

Nevertheless, the voyage did not reach its destination and was instead intercepted at the border.

Inza and his fellow travellers spent a week stranded in the Mediterranean Sea before the European Union eventually permitted them to enter Malta.

He stayed two weeks there before coming to Dublin, where he has lived for the past four years.

A keen footballer, Inza has played for SVS Shankill Valview Shangan and on Wednesday represented an Irish team internationally, as they finished in sixth place at the Unity Cup, which was organised during the week to help promote World Refugee Day.

The inaugural tournament, which took place in Switzerland on Wednesday, saw Ireland compete with seven other European countries, in an event developed by Uefa alongside UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Ambassadors at the event included Irish senior boss Stephen Kenny and ex-Italy international Demetrio Albertini, while each team was made up of 70% players with a refugee background.

According to a press release for the event, Ireland was chosen as one of the eight countries due to “its long-standing partnership work in the Ringsend area of Dublin, to engage young adults in football programmes”.

“I feel very happy and am looking forward to it,” Inza told The42 earlier this week before competing.

“We know we can’t do much more than what we can — we do our best to win something. If we can win the cup, I will be very happy.”

Inza has come a long way in the four years since arriving on Irish shores when he knew no one and could not speak English.

“When I first came, [people] were very welcoming. They were so nice. I couldn’t ask for more, everything was perfect. They took care of us very well, and the way we wanted.

“They put us in a school that’s called CDETB (City of Dublin Education and Training Board) where we went to learn how to write, how to speak, to know a little bit about the English alphabet, all of that.”

image8 Inza Bamba pictured on the ball.

The Unity Cup is an example of how football can be used as a force for good, and Inza says the sport also played a big role in helping him integrate into his new community.

“I’ve played football with three different clubs now. I still play with Shankill and I had a lot of different [positive] experiences there.

“Coaches, managers, staff are very nice. They treat you like other people, they never treat you [differently].

“Football I would say right now is the main path for bringing people together and making communities bigger.

“I believe that — I really do. Because since I started playing football in Ireland here, I have met a lot of people, I have made a lot of friends, I have got to know a lot of people and people are getting to know me. Sometimes I go to someplace where people call me by my name ‘Inza’ and I look at them and can’t remember who that person is.

“But they know me from playing football. I have a lot of friends like that. Young boys, teenagers, and even managers or coaches sometimes when I got to Dublin or somewhere, and I even don’t know where I got to know them, but it was from football.”

He continues: “The way Ireland’s people are treating me, I don’t know about other people, but me, I’m very happy and I have never been treated like that before since I was little.”

Also representing his adopted country at the Unity Cup this week was Tareq Altorok, who arrived in Ireland from the Gaza Strip — a notoriously conflict-ridden region in Palestine — at the age of 15.

Since moving to Dublin, he has represented a couple of football clubs including Cherry Orchard, Cabinteely and Rathcoole.

“I was playing football [in Palestine], I had a chance to play a tournament here in Ireland,” he recalls.

“They came back and they wanted to go again. And when they wanted to go again, I was part of that team. So we had a Visa but the trip was cancelled because there was a war between us and Israel. 

“My dad was thinking: if I can just travel by myself using that Visa. It was a hard decision, but in life, you have to risk things. So I decided to go, I came from Gaza all the way to Egypt, it was a long journey, and then came to Dublin. I was asking for asylum.

“I came here, zero English, zero knowledge about life in here, culture and everything was different. And so I had to adapt to this environment because I’m going to live in it. So I went to a school called CDETB for people that couldn’t speak English. I stayed there for three months.

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“And then I moved to secondary school in Blanchardstown called Le Chéile. I graduated from Le Chéile last year, I completed my Leaving Cert.

“And now I’m in DIT, I do a civil engineering course.”

unnamed Irish boss Stephen Kenny was an ambassador at the Unity Cup this week.

Tareq finds life in Ireland relatively serene, in marked contrast to the environment he was accustomed to growing up.

“It became a routine, being in danger. You just wake up, you don’t know if you are going to stay alive or get killed, because you’re not dealing with one person. You’re dealing with your own government and you’re dealing with the opposite side, which is Israel. So both of them have no mercy, they don’t care.

“If you do something wrong, even if it’s so simple, if it’s not that big, you might get murdered for it. I’ve seen people getting killed in front of my eyes, six of them. They were shooting them just because they were stealing something or they were telling the truth about the government

“You have to fake it, you have to tell them ‘you are the best,’ just to stay alive. And when it comes to wars, I have been through four of them in my life, and my worst one was in 2014 when I had to stay in my gaff for 50 days. No [access to] food, nothing.

“There were a lot of things I was going through. You were just hoping for the next day you live, you stay alive, it was just a routine for us.”

He continues: “Honestly, I always say, people here remind me of my people in Palestine, very welcoming. You’re dealing with true people, they’re very honest. If they don’t like you, they tell you in front of your face. And that’s what I love, that’s how people in Palestine are. If you ask for help, they will help you.”

Thanks to the right to family reunification under the International Protection Act 2015, Tareq was eventually reunited with those closest to him amid emotional scenes.

“When you leave your family and go abroad for four years, you’re still young, and you still need a parent’s love, you still need to be a bit of a child, the background where you came from, and just kind of lose that. When somebody asks about your childhood, [you say]: ‘Yeah, it was nice,’ but in reality, you didn’t really live it, you were just there for a certain time, and then you left.

“So when they came back, you know there was a big gap, and it just got filled in.

“All the things I have achieved so far before my family came over, for me, it was just the goals in my mind. And every time I achieved one of them, I would put a tick on it. But when my family came over, I was like: ‘That’s it. This is all I was aiming for. Now I’m fulfilled, now I’m happy.’”

Originally published at 07.30

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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