'They call it the fair city - it feels like that now'


BACKGROUND: Ghandi Mallak has in effect been stateless for the past decade

On a grim, cold and rain-lashed afternoon, Ghandi Mallak looked out the window of his new restaurant in Dublin yesterday and grinned with satisfaction: “I am so glad to be able to call this place home. They call it the fair city – and it feels like that now.”

For the past decade, this Syrian lawyer, who has lived in Ireland since 2002 has, in effect, been stateless.

While he and his wife received refugee status within months of arriving here, his application for Irish citizenship was turned down without explanation.

On foot of his successful Supreme Court case yesterday, the Minister for Justice will for the first time have to provide clear reasons why he and others are refused citizenship.

The ruling will lead to citizenship decisions being made on a more transparent basis and will allow people to address any concerns raised by authorities.

“I have been seeking this honour of citizenship for so long. Dublin is home. Even before coming to Ireland, I dreamt of coming to the nation of Beckett, Kavanagh, Wilde and Joyce,” says Mallak, who lives with his Syrian wife and two children, all of whom have Irish citizenship.

“I feel thankful to the justice system, to all of my legal team. Now, I can go home tonight with a smile on my face. I hope I will be able tell my children that ‘I am also one of you’.”

The ruling does not necessarily mean Mallak will become an Irish citizen. But if he is turned down again, he will be able to address any objections raised by authorities.

He is still at a loss to understand why he was refused. Mallak says he arrived in Ireland in 2002 and was granted refugee status months later.

While his wife was later granted citizenship, his application was rejected. The letter from the Minister for Justice failed to shed any light on the decision.

Without a Syrian passport, he carries a temporary UN travel document – which isn’t recognised by some jurisdictions. It means he can’t travel abroad for any significant period of time and faces thorough security checks wherever he goes.

It hasn’t stopped him doing his best to make a living. He is about to open a new restaurant, Damascus Gate, on Camden Street in Dublin. It is Syrian-themed, though he hopes it will find a place in Irish hearts.

“I’m from a culture which says do not give a man a fish – teach him how to fish. This could give me a new life. It’s not just a privilege, it’s an honour. I was seeking this honour for so long.”