A 29-year-old Syrian refugee who escaped to Ireland 18 months ago has made an impassioned plea to the Irish and European governments to help his fellow country people.
Motasem, a father of two, said intensive efforts were needed on two fronts — to welcome fleeing Syrians and to bring peace to the country.
“I would like to say, open the door and stop the war. That’s my message,” he said. “What has been done is not enough because still the children die every day. So open the door and stop the war.”
Although granted refugee status and reunited with his wife and young sons here last December, Motasem remains wary of divulging too many details that might identify him while he still has relatives in Syria.
But he spoke of the horrors that drove him to flee with his family, and the anguish they felt when they parted so that he could find a path for them to Ireland.
He said his home town in southern Syria was completely abandoned and he had moved several times within the country trying to seek safety.
He witnessed his cousin carrying the broken body of his eight-year-old daughter from a bomb-hit street before returning to try to collect her severed limbs from the rubble. “Your life is changed. You lost everything — your relatives, the people you love, your friends, you memories, your land, your house,” he said of the trauma wrought by the conflict on ordinary Syrians.
“We are in the 21st century but in Syria, most of people didn’t have electricity, they didn’t have a way to heat their homes. A lot of them carry a bottle and walk 2km or 2km sometimes to get some water for their children. That’s the life there.
”Motasem, like millions of other Syrians, felt the only thing left to do was leave and he plotted a risky route through Jordan, Turkey, across the Mediterranean and on up through Europe.
“The first border I crossed was the Syrian-Jordan border. I can tell you even after 100 years I will not forget that night because there is shooting, bullets. We have children, women, pregnant women, old people. I saw one old man, he is around 80 years, and he tried to cross by his hands and knees. I couldn’t forget that.”
The memories also haunted his older son, now aged four, but then just two.
“He sees some of what happened in Syria and he hear the bombs and shots and bullets. When we left to Jordan I spent a few months there just to let him forget.
“Every time somebody knocked on the door he hid under the table. Five or six months it takes a child who was two years old to forget what happened there and even when he came the first few months here, he was a little bit confused and feel scared to leave the house.
“Now I think he settles down, he is going to the creche, he is happy now, he has a nice smile.”
But seeing the smiles of his sons only reinforces for Motasem the agonies so many other children are suffering.
“The Syrian children die every day and we just take pictures. Nobody takes any steps. Just talking, talking, talking.”
He pleaded for the international community to commit to a collective response warning that if they don’t: “More children will die, more women, more victims, more violence, more destruction.
“This problem is not just a Syrian problem. It’s a humanitarian problem. It’s a global problem. Now in Syria we have more than 70 countries involved in that war. Now in Syria we have more than 100 nationalities of fighters.
“It’s a global problem and everybody should be involved to solve it. Save these children and give them a chance of a new life. That’s my message.
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