Published date09 April 2022
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
This is just the first step in being recognised as an asylum seeker in Ireland

In the past, getting an appointment and a card usually occurred within days of arriving in the country. Shouha has been waiting more than three months (she gets an appointment shortly after we speak).

When Shouha does receive her TRC, she will be able to apply for a PPS number and will probably be sent to a formal reception centre, before being sent to a direct provision centre, where she will get a €38.80 weekly payment and enter the more usual limbo where asylum seekers exist in Ireland.

Right now, in the emergency centre where she has a room, she receives meals but no access to money or clothes, and little information apart from what she gets from advocates such as Mavis Ravazani, founder of Cooking for Freedom, who introduces us.

Many people who have claimed asylum in Ireland in the past six months are in this situation. Many of their children have been without access to schools. Some have reported being unable to access GP care.

In a Caffe Nero in the city centre I meet Ravazani, Shouha and another volunteer, Rawan, who translates for Shouha, who has very little English. She has colourful clothes (all donated) and a broad smile.

Back in Damascus, Shouha, who is in her 20s, worked as an artist and a teaching assistant at the university. She has created art since she was a child. At home she made her own paint.

Here in Dublin an arts organisation has given her some art supplies and they also topped up a Leap travel card for her, which is why she has been able to travel today. She has been creating art since arriving here - beautiful acrylic paintings of Syrian people, from memory, and Irish people on St Patrick's Day - but a hotel room is not an ideal place for an artist.

War in Syria

The war in Syria began when Shouha was a teenager. She grew accustomed to the sounds of bombs, and could tell whether one was near or far away. When she was young, she says, she only worried when she saw that her mother was worried. Her immediate family is just her and her mother.

As a student she regularly found herself stuck for long periods in the university if the road to it was being bombed. Once a bomb exploded near her, but she was protected by a wall. She was unharmed, but had problems hearing for several days.

Shouha is originally from Daraa in the south of the country, which is known as the "cradle of the revolution". This is on her Syrian identity card, meaning she was regularly harassed by the security forces in the city. Shouha points to herself and says, with a sad smile, "special woman".

She spent years trying to leave the country, and the need got more urgent when she was arrested for taking a photograph. It was a photo for an art project, but the police thought it suspicious. Her mother had to cry and plead for her...

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