A young woman who fled the war in Syria and spent time living in Direct Provision has said she hopes to inspire others after receiving a scholarship for medicine.
Suaad Alshleh, 17, left Syria in 2011 and lived in the United Arab Emirates for a while before travelling to Ireland in August 2016.
She lived in Direct Provision in Co Monaghan for nine months until she secured refugee status.
Ms Alshleh later moved to Mountemellick Community College in Portlaoise as it was a school that allowed her to study chemistry – a subject she needed to study medicine.
She now lives in Dublin five days a week and is studying for a degree in medicine.
Education Minister Joe McHugh awarded the Professor William C Campbell Bursary to Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) student Ms Alshleh on Wednesday.
The scholarship recognises the work of Irish Nobel Prize winner Prof Campbell, whose research helped developed a drug treatment for river blindness.
Mr McHugh described Ms Alshleh as an “inspiration”.
Ms Alshleh said living in Direct Provision for nine months was tough but she got through it.
“It was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life. It was very tough as a 14-year-old, and especially because sort of all the burden of all the paperwork. My mother’s English wasn’t that great, so all the burden of the paperwork, such as getting a GP or just replying to the Department of Justice letters, that would all fall on my shoulders,” she said.
“So, especially for a girl, who was separated from her father, uprooted from everything she’d ever known, to have that burden, as well as doing my junior cert in one year, rather than three years… It was very tough, but I got through it and look where I am now,” she added.
Speaking at an Immigrant Council of Ireland conference in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Direct Provision system is not perfect but not inhumane.
“Direct Provision is an imperfect system but I do not believe it is an inhumane one. We have yet to come up with a better system but we are open to finding alternatives that are viable and affordable,” he said.
Ms Alshleh said living in Direct Provision was one of the hardest things she ever went through but agreed with Mr Varadkar that it is not inhumane.
“It’s definitely not inhumane. It’s very tough and I know it’s not an ideal solution at all. It’s far from ideal but I think it’s great that Ireland is willing to bring in refugees, and afford them all the opportunities,” she said.
I’m a perfect example of taking advantage of the opportunities the Irish Government has given me to pursue my third level education and to even be eligible for a bursary like this and to treat me as one of their own.
Ms Alshleh said when she completes her studies, she wants to stay and work in Ireland as it is her home now, adding: “I definitely want to stay here. I know it might sound a little cheesy, but I do want to contribute and give back to the community that has given me so much.”
Mr McHugh said: “I hope she enjoys her studies at such a prestigious institution as the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.
“Professor Campbell’s legacy is something that we should build on and by supporting students like Suaad and others in the coming years, we can do that.”