Razan stopped watching news reports from Syria temporarily in the run-up to her exams. Hearing tales of the death and destruction in her home country on a daily basis was unbearable, and her studies were slipping.
“It’s like watching your child dying and you can’t do anything about it. You feel paralysed. The culture, the heritage, the history, the humanity was being destroyed in front of my eyes and I felt helpless.
I had saved for years to come here and study. I worked in Syria and in Kuwait as an English teacher to save the money. The word ‘fail’ does not exist in my vocabulary. Pay everything and then fail? I literally studied 10-15 hours a day, but at the same time I was watching the news coming from home. I was so upset I decided to stop. I stopped because I couldn’t cope.”
The Syrian journalist was the first member of her family to study a master’s degree in Europe. She knows her family are proud of her. However, when she left Syria in 2011, she never imagined there would be no return journey at the end of her studies.
“I thought the conflict was going to end after a few months. I never thought I would stay in Ireland. I thought, I’m going to finish my master’s and go back home, because I already had a job waiting for me.
Syria is like a piece of a mosaic, it has a mixture of everything: different religions, backgrounds, opinions and lifestyles. But we are all Syrians; we lived in harmony before.
It was a real culture shock. I was introduced to Europe through Limerick. But the people were extremely friendly and opened their doors and their hearts to me. People here are curious about you; they ask a lot of questions and are open.”
Last year their parents visited Ireland for more than a month. It was the first time the family had been together in more than five years. “We were all united and it was one of the best moments in my life. They had a great time because it was their first time travelling outside Syria. But they wanted to go back, which I understand. Syria is their home and they are very connected to it. They are older people in their 60s, and it’s not easy for them to start a new life at this stage, particularly with the language barrier.”
Razan recognises that she and her siblings are lucky. She says governments worldwide must offer Syrian refugees a safe pathway to asylum in order to avoid the increasingly dangerous routes being taken by men, women and children fleeing their homeland.
“There are so many ways you can do this: through family reunification, student visas, humanitarian visas or scholarships. There are many ways they can arrive safely and in dignity, but they are not being given that chance.”
She clings to the hope that the war in Syria will end soon. “We have to hold on to the light. Syrians want to go home. They want to go back to their lives, to their businesses, their homes and their families. Everybody must take part in finding a solution.”
This story was originally published by The Irish Times here.