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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019
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"Would we choose Isis or the regime? We want neither, we want a third choice..."

29-year-old Syrian Motasem Hajali has lived in Ireland since February 2014.

Mideast Syria A Syrian man salvages furniture from his home which was destroyed by bombing from government forces in the northwestern city of Maraat al-Numan, November 2012. Source: AP/Press Association Images

A NORTHSIDE DUBLIN community is to hold an event today to welcome migrants and refugees who have settled in Ireland.

Dublin 7 Says Welcome will take place in The Elbow Room, Stoneybatter from 1pm. It’s billed as “a day of refugee solidarity, awareness & fundraising”.

In attendance will be 29-year-old Syrian Motasem Hajali. He’s been in Ireland since February 2014 having travelled from his native Khirbet Ghazaleh in southern Syria through Jordan, Turkey, and Greece before finally arriving here.

He told TheJournal.ie about his impressions of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and the war in his homeland that is one of its principle causes.

“It’s very upsetting – when you’ve lost your relatives, your cousins, your family, your house, your land, of course it is difficult,” he says.

Motasem is a mathematician by trade. Working as a teacher’s assistant here, he lives with his wife and two young boys in Santry.

motasem Motasem Hajali

His distaste for the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria is plain.

Syrians are dying every day and most of that is because of the regime. I don’t know when we can go back, it will take a long time you know.
Every time Assad looks weak he gets help from Russia.
They organised this war to destroy the Syrian people. I don’t know the reason. If you were in my position and your government did this, can you imagine what you would feel? There’s no logic to it.
My city, yes it had some rebels in it. But not many. And they destroyed the whole city. When you see your government do that you realise they don’t care about civilians.

Motasem has seen 35 cousins lose their lives in the conflict. Originally an offshoot of the Arab Spring, the uprising in Syria has been dealt with with an iron fist by Assad, with the Islamic State stepping into the breach caused by the war in the north of the country.

I hope I can go back, but these days how can I? He destroyed everything, the farms, the houses, the cities. We lost everything.

Motasem has little experience of Isis.

I haven’t seen Isis because I am from the south of the country and they aren’t there. Both of them are terrorists who destroy and kill. But it is the regime who have killed the most. Normal Syrians don’t have such radical Islam.
The regime has killed over 200,000 people, and now there are millions in camps around the world. If it were a straight choice the people in Syria would probably choose Isis over Assad.
But it should not be a case of Isis or the regime, we need a third choice. This is something the big countries need to help us with.
It is not just with bombs and rockets that Assad kills. He destroys dreams. I had a cousin, a very generous man, who all his life dreamt to make a business. They bombed and destroyed his farm. And he died of a heart attack. He had many children.
They destroyed his business, and they killed him when they destroyed his dream. These things happen every day in Syria.

Mideast Jordan Long Road Back A young girl is prepared for surgery at a MSF hospital in Jordan. Her lower legs were blown off by a tank shell in Motasem's home city of Khirbet Ghazaleh in 2012. Source: AP/Press Association Images

With family now spread across the globe in 17 countries, Motasem is happy to have found a place in Ireland.

“It is difficult to settle down when you have moved so much, and to such different places.

But Irish people are very lovely. Personally I have met many good people.

Year zero

Speaking at today’s event will be founder of the charity Schools for Syria Fr William Stuart.

Stuart sees a dialogue with the Assad regime as the only path open to the west and ordinary Syrians at present..

“It’s a very complex subject, and there is no easy solution,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Syria isn’t unique, there’s nothing new about trying to destroy what’s gone before to create year zero. It’s not as simple as getting rid of Assad. You can’t negotiate with Isis. Assad is the only show in town.
If we ignore reality we’ll have five more years of chaos. If we negotiate with Assad something will eventually move.

william William Stuart in Lebanon, 2013

Stuart doesn’t think the number of refugees the EU accepts should be an issue. “1.7 million refugees have been taken in by Lebanon. That’s equivalent to half their population. So quibbling over 8,000 seems a little inappropriate,” he says.

The question really should be, we’re taking in 8,000 now, but what about the 10 million who are coming behind them. Because they are certainly coming.

He doesn’t believe that most refugees will stay in Ireland regardless.

“I think they’ll go everywhere else because Ireland doesn’t have much to offer them,” he says.

But for those that are here, we can never do enough, but clearly we must do our best for them.
We need a process of integration and education, both of ourselves and of them. Otherwise ghettoisation and failure is inevitable.

Dublin 7 Says Welcome kicks off from 1pm today in The Elbow Room, Stoneybatter. The event “will be focused on the humanitarian situation, on solidarity”.

Read: Conor McGregor to donate €50,000 in aid of homeless crisis in Ireland

Read: Palestinians torch Jewish temple and call for “a Friday of revolution”

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