An eye-opening documentary following the lives of 240 Syrian refugees who arrived in Ireland seven months ago will be broadcast on TV3 next week. Ireland’s Refugee Hotel airs on Thursday and the powerful and emotive drama lays bare a split in the community as the newcomers are bussed into Ballaghadereen. The quiet Co Roscommon town has just 1,800 inhabitants and at first the decision to house refugees at the disused Abbeyfield Hotel is met with suspicion. But as the locals get to hear first-hand accounts of the war in Syria through the eyes of survivors the majority open their arms, and hearts, to their new neighbours.
You see you were just a racist bigot but now that you have this great new life experience you are a better person.
Ghassan, 21, left Syria 18 months ago and paid smugglers so he could risk his life making the journey by boat across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece.
He said: “Six times I was caught by the Turkish navy. The last time I went out I said I wouldn’t wear a lifejacket, so if anything happened it would be over. I’d had enough.”
Ghassan travelled with his aunt and great-aunt but he had to leave his mother and his younger siblings behind in Syria.
He said: “I’m afraid for my family. I miss them. I want them to come here. Before Syria was very beautiful, now the war has taken everything.” His pal Kamel, 24, who made the journey alone, tells how his mother was shot dead through his bedroom window four years ago.
So when the war is over will you be going back?
I mean if you love your country surely you would want to help to build it.
He revealed: “I had just woken up when she fell on the sofa. I didn’t understand what had happened.
“Then I went towards her and saw the bullet.”
So sad. I’m sure there are plenty of people who you will be able to emotionally manipulate with this story.
A tearful Kamel wept: “I was trying to keep her with me so I didn’t lose her. But I lost her.”
Hotel manager Jackie Mullen looks forward to welcoming the refugees but admits 240 people living in such close quarters presents daily challenges.
She said: “At first they were very subdued. You could tell they’d been to hell and back. I just want to make them feel safe.”
At one point she calls gardai after a squabble between children escalates into a punch-up between the adults. But things run smoothly most of the time.
Feelings run high as anti-Muslim leaflets are circulated but the local barber – a Pakistani Muslim who’s lived in Ireland for 15 years – helps calm things.
80% of immigrants were male and of adult military age.
They looked like this…