A Syrian academic who was awarded a scholarship to study for a PhD at Dublin City University (DCU) has said he is “angry and depressed” that he is unable to avail of “a life-changing opportunity” after his visa application to come to Ireland was rejected.
Mustafa Keshkeia, a translator and lecturer at Damascus university, was due to travel to Dublin in October 2021 after he was awarded a four-year postgraduate research scholarship with DCU’s School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies. However, in October he received a letter from the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi informing him his application had been rejected for several reasons, including failure to show adequate proof of secure finances and lack of evidence that he would definitely return to Syria once the PhD is completed. Mr Keshkeia appealed the annual decision, providing additional documentation on his finances and the tax-free stipend included in his scholarship.
“I have no intention of overstaying in Ireland beyond the period I am allowed to stay there,” he wrote in the appeal, adding that DCU had only offered him the scholarship on the agreement that he return to Syria upon completion to continue his work in Damascus.
“I am also leaving my family in Syria. I could have left my country back in 2015 along with all the people who sought asylum in Europe at that time. I have never thought of leaving my country.”
In December, Mr Keshkeia’s appeal was rejected. The Embassy informed him the appeals officer was “not sufficiently satisfied” that his primary objective was to pursue his PhD and was also not convinced there were enough economic opportunities in Syria that would encourage Mr Keshkeia to leave Ireland upon completely of his studies.
“They don’t believe I’m coming to Ireland to study because I’m Syrian,” he told The Irish Times. “For them, all Syrians are asylum seekers. It’s stereotyping and I consider it an insult. I have a masters degree, I’ve been a translator for the Indian embassy in Syria for 10 years, I work at Damascus university, I’m going to Ireland to study my PhD.
“My research project is about Syria, my case studies will be on NGOs operating in Syria so even during my studies I’ll be coming back here to collect data. I don’t have any intention to stay long term in Ireland. I’m leaving my family here, of course I’ll return to my country.”
Mr Keshkeia said DCU is now trying to move his PhD online so he can carry it out remotely from Damascus while liaising with his supervisor in Dublin. However, he believes his studies will suffer if he is forced to work at a distance from his colleagues in Dublin.
An open letter, posted online and signed by nearly 90 academics based in universities across Europe and the United States, including Ireland, Spain, Austria, Finland and the UK, has called on the Irish Embassy to “withdraw their discriminatory visa rejection” that restricts Mr Keshkeia’s “academic freedom and right to travel”.
A Department of Justice cases said it did not comment on individual merits but that “each visa application is examined fairly and in detail on its individual merits. The nationality of an applicant has no bearing on how an individual application is examined and processed.”
Some 82 per cent of the 227 visa applications made by Syrian nationals in 2020 to come to Ireland were granted, while nearly 64 per cent of the 942 applications made in 2019 were accepted, according to the department.