Anas and Ammar Al-Kadry used to be regular young guys: going to school, watching football, and playing cards and hanging out with their friends. They lived in Damascus, the once-cosmopolitan capital city of Syria. But four years ago war came to their country and ripped life as they knew it apart.
Anas and Ammar had barely heard of a place called Ireland. Anas says he knew about it from a film called P.S. I Love You and ‘the potato problem’. Ammar thought Ireland was just a bit of the United Kingdom.
But now, Ireland is their home. They spent the last nine months in the reception centre for asylum seekers in the town of Ballyhaunis waiting to get refugee status and have just moved to Galway where they are trying to start studying - and a new life.
The journey to Ireland was not easy. It was dangerous and terrifying. But life in Damascus had become un-liveable. Their aunt and uncle were murdered: the name of the president written on the wall in blood. The Al-Kadry name became dangerous and, being of fighting age, Anas and Ammar were wanted by the government for military service.
The family factory – once a thriving business – was bombed and their family was confined to their house in a city with electricity and water shortages.
The Documentary on One traces Anas and Ammar’s journey from the desert in Algeria to the lawless dark heart of Libya’s people-smuggling trade – the city of Zuwara - and from there, the treacherous crossing in rickety overcrowded boats across the Mediterranean.
Anas and Ammar were separated by the smugglers and put on different boats. On Anas’s boat, when the engine broke and the boat started taking on water, it seemed as though there was no hope for any of them.
“Why is this happening to me? I’m not a bad guy.” Anas wondered in the middle of the dark night as the people began to tire after bailing water with glasses for 19 hours. He looked around the boat and wondered which child he would try to help when the boat went down. Would he swim alone and how long would it take him to drown?
Now in Ireland, the biggest thing that Anas and Ammar appreciate is not any material benefits. It is the fact that they no longer live in fear. Anas says he can feel the freedom and the safety and this is what means the most to him.
The tide of refugees and migrants shows no signs of abating as people desperate to leave the places they come from risk their lives to come to Europe. It is estimated that at least 750,000 people have risked their lives so far to reach Europe via the sea. This is the story of just two of them.
Produced and narrated by Nicoline Greer.
Sound supervision by Mark Dwyer.
First broadcast: Saturday 28th November 2015, 2pm
This documentary features audio from rescues filmed on Medicins Sans Frontiers boats.
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries