'They kill . . . because if they don't kill us they think we will kill them'
“WHEN I TALK to them on the phone, I hear the shooting,” says Milah (27) describing the times she is lucky enough to reach her family in Syria.
Last February she and her husband Abdul watched on TV as government tanks surrounded their neighbourhood of Baba Amr in the now besieged city of Homs. One of Abdul’s brothers was killed during the attacks and their families were forced to flee. The houses where they grew up have been reduced to rubble.
Like other exiles interviewed, Milah asked us to use her first name only for reasons of personal safety.
“Every second I am checking my phone,” says Milah, who has lived in Dublin over five years. For more than a year now, she and Abdul have spent many hours every day looking at photographs, videos and updates posted to Facebook and YouTube by independent Syrian media and opposition activists.
Milah used to respect President Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished man who had studied in Europe. “Now, I can’t even look at his picture,” she says.
Sitting in her livingroom in a quiet south Dublin suburb, she shows a photograph of a shopping mall, now a crumbling edifice, near her family’s house. A car trampled by a tank is parked outside. “I forget to clean, to cook – all day I am crying,” she says. “It’s hard to imagine, that’s my home, that’s my street.”
When Abdul’s brother was killed, Milah had to call his mother in Syria to tell her he was dead, having seen a photo of his body on Facebook.
“Imagine it, I’m in Dublin and they’re in the same town where his body is, but they can’t see him. His wife, she can’t say goodbye,” she says in disbelief. “His five-year-old son, they told him his father had gone to work with Abdul here in Dublin.”
Though hundreds have defected from the Syrian Army, Milah thinks many continue out of fear. “Now, they kill the people because if they don’t kill us they think we will kill them.”
Outside Costa Coffee in Blanchardstown shopping centre, 10 men from Syria who have set up businesses and raised families in Dublin speak with anger and disbelief about the deepening crisis in their country.
Dr Hassan, a consultant at a Dublin hospital, says his hometown has been bombarded five times by the military. “They switch off all ways of communication,” he explains. “That’s the most difficult, when you know your city is under attack but you can’t reach your family.”
Adam (23), who graduated from Trinity College Dublin recently, was born in Hartstown but most of his family, including his father and brother, are still in Syria. He has tried to raise money for medical supplies through fundraising events in college.
Adam’s uncle, whose two young children were born in Dublin, describes his time in Syria six months ago. “Where I lived is now under siege by Assad’s military,” he explains. “My car got seven bullet holes when I was there. There are snipers on the roofs.”