The backlash surrounding the proposed use of the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey as a centre for asylum seekers is nothing new to the people of Ballaghaderreen, where refugees fleeing war-torn Syria have been arriving since last year.
The Emergency Reception Centre at the former Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen has been a source of controversy since it opened in 2017 with locals and public representatives questioning the decision to locate those in need in a town which was hit hard by the recession. While the mostly Syrian refugees have been mainly positive about their experiences in Ballaghaderreen, there have been concerns as to what exactly the next step in their journey will be.
For young Syrians like Bashar Samiz, that feeling of uncertainty has been a common theme throughout their lives. Bashar is 17-years-old and arrived in Ballaghaderreen just six months ago. He said he was just eleven-years-old when his entire family was killed by what his neighbours described as a “gas bomb”. He had been away from the family home at the time of the explosion but returned home to a scene of devastation.
“We left Syria because there were a lot of problems and war and bombs five years ago.I came with my uncle because my mother, father, two brothers and sister all died in Syria.
“It is very hard but it is life. I don’t like to speak with other people about my family. I keep that in my heart. It is hard but when I speak to people they can’t do anything for me. It doesn’t help and it doesn’t do anything. My uncle and aunt are my family now.
“When I went back to the town (that day) people came and told me that (a bomb had hit the town). I didn’t see the bomb or anyone die but they told me that everyone died,” he said.
Bashar was told that after the gas bomb there was a fire and many people were burned. He still doesn’t know where the bomb came from but believes that it came from one of the “many” planes that were in the skies above Syria at that time. His uncle Khalid took him in and became his guardian.
Bashar said that shortly after his family’s tragic deaths he left Syria and travelled to Turkey with his mother’s sister.
“I stayed in Turkey for six months and I met with my uncle Khalid in Turkey. I went to live with him and we decided to come to Europe”.
Bashar said his uncle, a brother of his father, and himself a married man with five children, took him to Greece where they stayed for over two years before arriving in Ireland six months ago.
Bashar and his aunt had initially made a cross border crossing in Turkey by bus. He says he made the dangerous journey into Greek waters by way of an inflatable ring at the age of fourteen. He was met by officials who brought him ashore and took them to a camp where they were fed and given clothes.
Later Bashar said that he and his uncle would spend six months in a tent in a Greek town before police brought them to the countryside where they lived in a caravan at a camp before moving into a house.
“The UN called us and ask ‘Do you want to go to Ireland?’ We said yes”.
The UN carried out “many interviews” ahead of their journey to Ireland according to Bachar, asking him questions about his background and circumstances. Earlier this year Bashar arrived in Dublin and was taken to Ballaghaderreen.
He said he made the trip with his uncle’s family because he didn’t feel safe in Turkey and claimed that Syrian workers had been exploited by Turkish businessmen.
While he described Greece as “beautiful”, he said that there was no work for him there. He said he wants to go to college to study design. School had finished in Syria when he was eight but he resumed his studies in Greece where he learned Greek before moving to the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre in Ballaghaderreen where he is learning English.
He described Ballaghaderreen as a “beautiful town” adding that he felt safe, but he said that there weren’t enough opportunities and facilities in the town for young people.
“I want to learn English. I want to go to college and I want to work. I want to start a new life,” he said before adding that that would require moving to “one of the cities”.