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'If somebody destroyed your house and raped half your family, what would you do?'

Irish citizen Ghandi Mallak says no Syrian wants to flee their county, they are forced to – and anyone in their position would probably do the same.
THE ONLY OPTION is the back of the lorry. It doesn’t mean this is the right way, but for people who are fleeing the hell out of Syria, there is a reason, and a strong reason, why someone will go in a coffin boat crossing the Mediterranean – because what’s back home is even worse.

Ghandi Mallak has lived in Ireland for almost 15 years.

He left Damascus in Syria 20 years ago and studied law in Beirut, Lebanon before moving to Europe. He received refugee status within months of arriving here and, after a long legal battle, was granted Irish citizenship in late 2014.

He opened a restaurant, Damascus Gate, on Camden Street in Dublin three years ago.

d gate new Damascus Gate Aoife Barry / Aoife Barry / /

Last week he went to Turkey to help smuggle a group of Syrians, including four family members, into mainland Europe.

“I went to Turkey with a will – to help my family and nobody will stop me and nobody can stop me.

When the airplane landed in Turkey from Beirut, the pilot came and said ‘Please, leave our life jackets – don’t rob them’ … Everybody knows what’s going on.

Ghandi says Syrians do not want to leave their country, but are being forced to do so.

new gif Aoife Barry / Aoife Barry / /

Nobody wants to leave Syria. We don’t have this culture of migration.
If somebody destroyed your house, raped half of your family, your university was flattened to the ground because of the rockets – what would you do? You would leave. You are forced to leave.

The group he helped get to Europe were charged €2,500 per person to be transported to Greece.

His oldest sister, whom he met for the first time in 20 years last week, is now in Copenhagen, Denmark.

image-7fb1347fbec7bb74c0c246e093dea95204fecade93f8a01cdca1fb28e96f5a49-V Ghandi and his sister embrace after seeing each other for the first time in over 20 years

Her daughter and husband are in Greece, where Ghandi’s nephew was due to arrive yesterday.

“There are a few people gone off the radar and I’m really worried,” he notes of those he helped leave Turkey.

‘Their weapons are violins’

Ghandi says seven musicians also travelled to Greece on the same boat, including two members of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra.

As he puts it: “All the weapons they were carrying were violins, cellos and flutes.

At every corner in Turkey, smugglers will stop you offering help and then intimidate you to take your money.

People are selling possessions such as wedding rings to raise the money they need to cross into Europe. Ghandi has maxed out his credit card trying to help.

“Money is not the subject – it’s the will. We have the will. I helped them and I would do it again.”

‘The rats live better than them’

Ghandi becomes very emotional when discussing his reunion with his sister. He feels terrible guilt for what his family have suffered since he left Syria.

His sister had kept a number of documents from when he was younger – old school notes, photos, a booklet from a drama he acted in as a child. She gave them to him last week.

IMG_6232 Aoife Barry / Aoife Barry / /

IMG_6238 Aoife Barry / Aoife Barry / /

The rats live better than them.
My 74-year-old father who had a stroke and a clot, heart conditions – you name it, whenever there was a bombing he used to sleep under the staircase.

Ghandi’s younger sister and her child are still in Damascus.

I left my little sister who was eight. Now she’s 28 and I’ve never met her. I suffered because of that regime, the whole country has suffered. But, at this moment, Bashar al-Assad is the only guarantor to save Syria. We have no opposition. Who are the opposition? Where is the ideology? Where is the funding coming from?

Ghandi questions the motives of countries such as Iran, Russia, Qatar and the US – who are funding various sides in the civil war.

“Children are getting killed, paying the price of our luxurious life here in the west.”

refugees Syrian refugees covered in dust on arrival at the Trabeel border after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families PA PA

The Assad family, who are minority Shia Alawites, have ruled Syria since 1970. Bashar al-Assad has been in power for the last 15 years.

Around the time of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, Sunnis (the country’s largest demographic) and others began demonstrating against the regime. These protests became a civil war.

The emergence of the Islamic State and conflict among the rebels has made the situation more convoluted.

The UN reports that the civil war has created four million refugees. Estimates put the number of fatalities at anything from 220,000 to more than 300,000 people.

So, does Ghandi see any end in sight in terms of the war?

“Not at all,” he laments.

A solidarity demonstration for refugees is taking place at the Spire on O’Connell Street at 2pm today.

We’ll have more from our interview with Ghandi tomorrow.

Confirmed: Ireland will take in 4,000 refugees

Read: What will happen when the bed-pledgers are contacted to make good on their promise?

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