'Syrian children have little choice: stay and die or flee and take a chance'
Published 10/09/2015 | 02:30
Syrian national Motasem recalls watching his cousin pick up the remains of his daughter when she was killed by a bomb.
He remembers seeing blood flow down the streets in his home city of Daraa when soldiers opened fire on protesters during heavy rainfall.
And he remembers when he was told that his best friend had drowned trying to flee the war-torn country in a flimsy dinghy just a few months after he himself had successfully escaped.
For the past 18 months he has lived in safety in Santry, north Dublin, where he has been joined by his wife and two children. But, he says, the painful memories and experiences will never leave him.
"Syrian children today do not have a lot of choices. The first choice is to stay in Syria and then die with a bomb," he said at a press conference in Dublin.
"Or they can leave to the camps in an inhuman environment and die from disease. The third choice is to leave for Europe or a new country that can give them a chance. That's the Syrian child's choices today," he said.
Motasem (29), who declined to give his surname, made the decision to leave after witnessing the death of his cousin's eight-year-old daughter in her father's arms.
"She tried to cross the road to get to the basement. It was just a few seconds, and he finds her legs in one place, her arms in another and he tried to collect them. You cant imagine what he's feeling. Can you imagine your daughter in that position?" he asked.
Motasem arrived in Ireland in February 2014 after fleeing Syria for Jordan, then on to Turkey, and a harrowing journey by sea into Greece before flying here.
His best friend, a qualified doctor and father of two, drowned making the same sea voyage a few months later.
"I told him it's dangerous and many people die but it's complicated to make the decision. He made the decision and that is what happened to him."
Motasem says the only way to tackle the refugee crisis is to end the war in Syria, while also welcoming as many refugees here as possible.
"Open the door and stop the war. If we don't stop the war, every day children will die there," he said.
He was speaking at a conference organised by the newly formed NGO Coalition - composed of 16 human rights organisations and charities including the Irish Refugee Council, the Migrants Rights Centre of Ireland and Oxfam.
The group criticised the Government for not engaging with the non-governmental organisations.
"We might be the Irish Refuge Council (IRC), but we don't have a clue what is happening because the response is only interdepartmental," IRC CEO Sue Conlan said.
"It's government talking to government. They are not talking to others who might be able to assist."
She also claimed the Government had "misled" people when it said those arriving from Syria would not be placed in the direct provisions system.
Oxfam CEO Jim Clarken said Ireland should be a leading voice at a European level in tackling the "unprecedented" crisis. He said the European response so far had been "paltry".