New to the Parish: ‘Every family in Syria has lost somebody’

A series about the lives of recent arrivals to Ireland: When a bomb fell close to their home in Damascus, the Naser family decided to move to Ireland

Modar Naser from Syria, with his wife, Dima, and their children, Naser (15) and Kamar (17), at home in Lucan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Modar Naser from Syria, with his wife, Dima, and their children, Naser (15) and Kamar (17), at home in Lucan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Naser family: arrived from Syria, 2012

The Naser family were eating breakfast the first time they felt the ground shake from a nearby explosion.

They had watched in fear as the violence spread through Syria after protests escalated in March 2011. In the capital city they felt relatively safe and disconnected from the conflict.

Dima Naser had heard rumours of violent protests on the outskirts of Aleppo and Damascus. “You heard about it but you didn’t see it. We thought, We’re okay, it won’t come to Damascus. Then the explosions started in November 2011.”

Dima remembers the windowpanes shaking after the first bomb fell near their home. The second explosion shattered the glass. Dima’s husband, Modar, rushed his wife and two children, Kamar and Naser, into the bathroom, where they waited for the bombing to cease. As they crouched together in fear, Kamar turned to her father and pleaded, “Can we leave this country?” The following week the family left for Ireland.

“I told them to arrange their things, we were only going for one week,” says Modar, who worked as an orthodontic dentist in Damascus. “We checked in small bags, just the basics.”

Modar recognises how fortunate they were to leave Syria while it was still in a relatively “good condition”. His children will carry with them the image of the “beautiful country” it once was.

Before 2011 the family were enjoying “the golden years”, says Modar. “My job was very good and I worked very hard. We travelled a lot and I had patients from lots of countries.”

The family had two houses: their home in Damascus and a summer residence with a swimming pool in the town of Bloudan, outside the capital. It was like heaven, says Dima. “Life was very easy. We would go to work, go to restaurants every night. There was lots of music and singing. We met up with friends and family. We went shopping in malls.”

After March 2011, Dima began receiving emails from the Irish Embassy in Egypt advising the family to be prepared to leave Syria at a moment’s notice.

Born in Ireland

Dima and her two siblings were born in Ireland while their father was studying radiology at the Royal College of Surgeons. As an Irish citizen, she passed citizenship on to her children. Ireland, she says, was the only choice for the family.

On January 17th, 2012, the family arrived in Ireland and checked in to a hotel on Pearse Street in Dublin’s city centre.

“We acted like tourists for my children; we even did the open bus tour,” says Modar. “We tried to entertain them but were also looking for proper accommodation and looking for schools.”

The couple knew no one in Ireland and, Dima had very few memories of the time she spent in Ireland as a child. A chance encounter with a Syrian who had lived in Ireland for 30 years brought the family to Lucan, where the children were enrolled in Adamstown Community College.

Kamar (17) says her peers were welcoming and intrigued by her Syrian background. “I was the first one to be an Arab, so they all thought I was Spanish.”

After Modar received his immigration stamp from the Department of Justice, he began studying English so that he could apply to practise as a dentist in Ireland.

“All my dentistry was studied through Arabic, so I needed to study everything in English and start again.” Later this year he will finally sit his exam at the Royal College of Surgeons. “I’m doing my best to prepare. I don’t want to spend €2,000 and then fail. It’s been a long journey here; it’s not easy.”

Dima and Modar constantly worry about their parents, who are still in Damascus. Dima’s cousin was recently shot dead, along with his wife and three children, while they were hiding in their basement.

“Every family in Syria has lost somebody,” says Modar. “It’s a civil war, brothers and sisters fighting each other, and I never believed that would happen in our country.”

Dima, who now works at the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce, is grateful for the friendly welcome the family have experienced in Ireland since leaving Syria.

Next year Kamar will sit her Leaving Cert and plans to study food nutrition at UCD. However, she hopes to return home when the conflict ends.

“If I had the choice I would go back. You can get used to being here, but you can never change yourself.”

  • We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years.To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com
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