My new life as a young Syrian refugee in Ireland
Posted on May 08, 2019 at 01:03 PM
My name is Taqwa Alhariry. I am a 27-year-old student, who escaped the savage war in Syria to live in Ireland with my mother and sisters.
I came here with my two sisters, Sarra (19), Maisa (22) and my mother Fatima. We were later joined by my third sister Amira (17), who came from Turkey, and we now live together in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. A fourth sister, Shaima is living in Belgium. We are originally from Daraa city in Syria and I am currently studying Cambridge English in Dublin so as I can enter a university in Ireland.
I originally came from Syria and used to live with my family in Daraa city.
In 2011 life in Syria was calm. In the southern city of Daraa people were living happily with their families other, neighbours living together, children in schools, men and women happily working. Young people were studying in universities for a better future.
During an ordinary day in March in 2011 when most people returned home from long hours of work to relax and enjoy family time, one of the television news channels reported terrifying news that shocked us. It was about the arrests of 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the wall of a school in Daraa. The children’s arrests and mistreatment was a spark that lit the flame of anti-government protests that followed
What began as a peaceful insurrection developed into a war that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, many of them children, and the total destruction of many cities. Families stopped sending their kids to schools, men and women stopped working, food became unaffordable and refugees flee the country for a better life or face death. In Syria Muslims, Christians and other religions used to live in harmony but the war has left deep scars and a death toll has reached more than 400,000 according to UN estimates.
Many of us fled overland while others had to face a perilous sea journey across the Sea of Turkey to reach Greece. Unfortunately, though, many people including children were drowned when small boats sank.
Among those, I met was Amina, one of the Syrian people who attempted the journey with her husband. Her husband died on board a small raft, possibly due to a lack of oxygen, and the huge number of people in the small boat.
Around this time I had just started at university but because of the war I had to leave with my family to live in Turkey all the time hoping that Syria would return to normal and we could go back to our homes, my parents gave us this hope when we left our country.
Our family of four girls and my mother arrived in Turkey after a long and difficult overland journey to reach the border. Life in Turkey was fine in the beginning and we enjoy the beauty of the country. But unfortunately, we discovered that we were not allowed to study or work there by the authorities so our future looked bleak.
I was disappointed that after a year of living in Istanbul, trying to learn the Turkish language and making friends I was feeling hopeless without a homeland or a future.
We began to hear that some Syrian families were leaving Turkey to travel to Europe and the difficulties they encountered on the way. We believe that we had no choice and had to face whatever lay ahead. Along the way, we heard that there were people smugglers who would get us to Greece. My mother and my sisters decided to leave our little home in Istanbul and made our way into Istanbul.
We paid smugglers to take us in a van to a beach where we found many families waiting to get on an inflatable boat. On the beach at Izmir the weather was wet and cold, the ground was muddy. The van driver dropped us off some distance from the beach and everyone walked for several kilometers. We were with children, old women, men, sick people walking in the rain, mud and cold and biting wind.
While I waited on the beach with my sisters and mother I wondered if we were all going to die. What would happen if the flimsy raft sinks, can we swim to the shore? Will someone be there to help us if anything happens? My mind was filled with many more disturbing thoughts. Someone beside me on the beach received a call advising us that we had to wait until night time for the crossing so we found a place to sit and shelter from the rain and cold.
While we were together we shared our stories of our country and how we left Syria and Turkey, what difficulties they encountered and the sadness and loss of loved ones in war. Maryam was one of the women who was with us.
She told me “I did not want to leave my country and kept hoping that normality would return. But I have four boys who had to go to into the army. I didn’t want them to go because I felt sure I would lose them. I was afraid the military would come and take them away as had happened to many people, so I left Syria with my sons. We had to cross a muddy hill, the only place that had no border guards and while I was crossing the hillside I fell down and broke my leg. Obviously, I could not walk but my son helped me walked the rest of the way although I was in great pain”. Myriam joined many other families who trekked along the same dangerous mountain path.
On the beach at Izmir in Turkey night time was coming near and the group of men, women, and children were trying to be calm but feeling afraid about what lay ahead. Children were getting very cold and their parents were covering them with clothes and blankets.
My family eventually clambered into the raft packed with people. I could not see anything because it was so dark. There were about 70 people crammed into the boat for the three-hour journey with no room to sit down. Most people stood upright for three hours without food or water.
It was impossible to move in any direction. Many of us felt seasick, there was a lack of oxygen and I could not breathe. Small children were frozen with the cold. We endured three hours of sadness and prayers asking God to protect us on our journey as water lapped over the sides of the boat.
We were thinking about people who died on the journey previously and wondering to ourselves if anyone would help us when we reached the shore in Greece?
At one point when the sea water started to come over the sides of the small boat, we were frightened that we would all drown.
As the boat reached the shore we could see the beach and people waiting to help us. My mother fainted in shock so she was taken to hospital to recover. We lived in tents in Moria camp in Lesvos, Greece for a month with about 3,000 other refugees. It was hard living in a tent in Greece as the weather was so hot in summer with flies, insects, and snakes adding to the discomfort.
Later we were moved to a camp with proper facilities with running water and toilets. Food was also provided for us twice a day, though we had to queue for hours and I volunteered to help distribute food.
I remember that once when my mother Fatima was walking in Athens, a man pulled at her headscarf and started yelling, “leave our country, go away from here, we don’t want refugees”.
My mother replied to the man “we are not happy to leave our homeland, we were persecuted in our country and forced to leave everything behind”.
We lived in this Greek camp for some months until we got a call from the Ireland embassy one morning to say that we had been accepted as refugees and we would be travelling to Ireland. (Ireland was one on countries the family had applied to start a new life)
I am happy to be in Ireland with my family around me. I and my sisters finally can complete our studies and plan for a bright future. We are also very happy to be around Irish people. They never make us feel that we are strangers and always treat us with kindness and humanity.
Although we are getting all we need in Ireland to live there are a hundred things that will stay in the heart about our home in Syria that we will never forget it.
Thanks to the Irish Government that provided everything for us and helped us to settle in we are now living together in a beautiful, peaceful place, without war or terror.