Nawwar Dlekan’s pleasant demeanour and affable nature belies the angst she has lived with every day since she left Syria a year ago.
Born in Ireland while her father Samhih completed his studies in UCD, Nawwar’s Irish passport entitled both her and husband Housam to safe passage out of her war-torn homeland.
While she is safe and happily living in Waterford city with Housam, Samhih, along with Nawwar’s mother, Hoda Abou Karoum and brother Murhaf remain in Syria, literally surrounded by war.
She shared her story with City & County Mayor John Cummins and the print media in the City Hall Parlour on Thursday last, providing us with a first-hand account of the reality of war.
“I must find a safe and legal way to get them here,” Nawwar said of her family, who are essentially trapped in the suburb of Darayya, five miles from the centre of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“It is not safe for them to go by sea to Turkey, I do not want this for them. But Syria is now so dangerous; there is no safe area left in the country.
“My parents’ house has been damaged, they have been cut off from services and I have not heard either of their voices for over a week now. I do not know what is going on there, I do not know how they are, and that is why I wish that they can come here to Ireland, to Waterford, and make a new life, away from war. And I wish I could help them more than I have up to this moment.”
Currently studying business at Waterford’s College of Further Education, Nawwar described Waterford as “a really nice and safe place to live – the people here have been so friendly, welcoming and helpful”.
Nawwar, who completed her university degree in media and journalism in Damascus before joining Nousam in Waterford, said they hope to lay down roots on Suirside.
“I believe I can make a future here,” she said. “I want to live here for a long time. It is a really nice city and I hope that my family can join me here. I want them here as soon as possible they are really in danger. I have told them many times that Ireland is a very good country, a safe and friendly country where human rights are respected. As an Irish citizen, I think I have a right to help my family to come here so that they too can make a future for themselves.”
Nawwar continued: “My family are educated. My father is a teacher of English, my mother is a lawyer, they do not wish to be dependents of any government, they want to work, they want to have a good future and that is something that all people deserve: a secure future and a safe life.”
Her parents have suggested, more than once, that they would take their chances on a boat bound, most likely, for Turkey, but Nawwar has pleaded for them to resist this option.
“There are so many people dying at sea; I do not want this for my parents and my brother. That is why I am attempting to find a legal and a safe way to bring them here. For them to go by sea, for me, is to go from one dangerous situation into another situation that is just as dangerous.”
She continued: “On times when I have made phone contact with my parents, I have heard the bombs exploding nearby. All the glass in their home has been destroyed and they have only been able to replace it with plastic. No water, no electricity, no services at all; the bread they eat is not healthy. I have to do something as soon as possible. I must help my family in any way possible.”
While completing her studies in Damascus, Nawwar admitted: “I was going to university and expecting to die. Sometimes, inside the college, we would hear explosions outside and there were time when we were on the streets, walking past dead bodies. On many times, I had to walk home, which took two hours. And while it was really hard to finish college, people want to get on with life. They want to survive. They want life and they want peace.
“Many Syrians are now escaping and moving into Europe because there is no choice for them to live any more in Syria, and that is very sad, of course. But I have to try and do something for my parents and brother – and of course I wish for a better future for my country.”
Nawwar, who spoke with great dignity, added: “This country has freedom and democracy. There is justice and equality here, which is something we never had in our country during my life.”
As for the support she has received from Waterfordians, Nawwar said she was humbled by such words. “Many here have said it is their turn to accommodate immigrants; the Irish have suffered from war and famine in their own history. I have been touched by how sensitive and caring so many people in Waterford have been towards me. And that is why I hope my family can come here and make a new life.”
For all the blather expounded about fascism and treason on Irish social media, listening to the fears of someone who’s fled a war zone reminds me, at least, that bananas as all as this Republic is, we could be a great deal worse off. Just ask Nawwar Dlekan.