Syrian refugee Ahmad has found a new home in Rathgar with Martin and Roisin thanks to the Irish Red Cross’ Register of Pledges programme. They tell us their story.

Ahmad had an idyllic life in the ancient and much-visited city of Aleppo. He spent his days with his cousins, swimming and playing football.

Then the war came and changed everything. Soldiers disturbed him when he was going to university, and again when he was going to work.

Ahmad decided to leave and went back to his original neighborhood but it was subject to constant gunfire from military planes. Along with this, he was in constant fear military forces would, at any time, come into his home and take him away.

Ahmad decided to get out and headed for Turkey. “I wanted to travel and to do something useful for my life, for my future and for my family as well,” says Ahmad.

He got to Istanbul and then embarked on the treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean to Greece.

The boat trip took place at 2 am and Ahmad says it was scary. He was with 40 people, the vast Courtesy Caroline Quinn/Irish Independentmajority of whom were women and children while there were some old people too. He says “criminal people” took a lot of money from them to transport them to Greece. On the boat, Ahmad gave his life jacket to a woman “because I knew, myself, I could swim but she had a small baby and was scared and really stressed,” he explains.

Ahmad says his group was “lucky” to reach the Greek island safely. He spent ten months in Greece before he was contacted by the Irish embassy who arranged for him to come to Ireland.

Martin’s Story
Months before that, Martin and Roisin were watching television in Rathgar, Dublin when the Irish Red Cross call-out for pledges of accommodation for Syrian refugees came up on the news. “I think it was almost an instantaneous  sense on both our parts,” says Martin. “We don’t have kids, we’ve got a house, plenty of space, this is no big deal; we felt it was the right thing to do in the situation. We asked ourselves, ‘if we were in their shoes what would we want?’ We just said we should ring up and put our names down, which we did.”

At the end of August last year, Roisin and Martin got a call from the Irish Red Cross. Ahmad had been in direct provision for nine months and the Irish Red Cross wanted to introduce them.

“The Red Cross brought him along for an interview, just a get-to-know you session,” says Martin. “He had an interpreter and that went very well. We liked the cut of his jib and he didn’t have any objections to us, so we said yes and within roughly a week or ten days, Ahmad had landed with us.

“People said to us ‘does it not change the dynamic?’, continues Martin, “and of course it does, but we have had nephews and nieces transitioning from university to work who have stayed a few months and you get used to that disruption. I like my routine so it’s actually good to be upset from your routine occasionally and to have to makes some adjustments, but once you get over the kind of ‘how is the laundry going to be done’ and ‘when are you joining us for meals’, you get into a routine,” says Martin.

Their story
“The Red Cross set out an agreement at the very start and it sets out the rules of the game,” explains Martin. “Part of that is an anticipated 12-month period, the intention being that during it, Ahmad will perfect his English, he will learn about Irish customs, Irish ways and then hopefully transition smoothly into the world of work, so he has been preparing for that since the moment he landed with us.”

As a fully recognised refugee, Ahmad has all the rights of an Irish citizen. He works in a hotel in Dublin as a waiter and is doing a Level 4 Office skills course. “I’m doing this course is to improve my English and to get better opportunities,” says Ahmad.  

He has also picked up other skills since arriving in Ireland. “When Ahmad arrived he couldn’t cook to save himself,” says Martin, “but two weekends ago he prepared a dinner for ten people. His friends from Mosney came and we had this feast and Ahmad - by ringing up his Mammy in Aleppo - got these recipes, and was creatively able to turn out an excellent dish.”

It’s a far cry from the disruption Ahmad experienced back home where he lost family, neighbours and friends. “I lost my cousin,” says Ahmad. “A plane bombed the building and he was under rubble. We took him out and he was rushed to hospital and he was unconscious for five days. Then he came around but after a few hours he died. He was not just my cousin he was my friend as well. We grew up together and we did most of our activities together like to going to the swimming pool or playing soccer.”

Ahmad is now building a life in Ireland but what made him choose Ireland over other countries in Europe? “I heard about Ireland and I read about Ireland and I read as well about the Irish famine and how Irish people crossed to America – they were in a bad situation like we are, so I felt they would understand our suffering,” says Ahmad. Furthermore, Ahmad had discovered that a donation was made to the Irish people by his own country (then in the form of the Ottoman Empire) during the famine though Queen Victoria sought to prevent it.

“This was a piece of history I had never heard of until Ahmad told us about it,” notes Martin, “but it gave him a sense that this country has been through an experience not unlike his own and there might well be an empathy and a welcome for his situation.”

In conclusion, Martin notes that “in life, when you give, you typically get more than you give and in this case we are learning a great deal about Ahmad’s culture, about the Koran about Islam and its heritage.”

Martin also talks about experiencing what was a far-way conflict through the eyes of somebody who has lived through it. “You begin to get a sense of what it feels like to be on the inside of that news story,” says Martin. “Looking out from Ahmad’s perspective, there are very few friendly faces.” 

Photos courtesy of Caroline Quinn/Irish Independent

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