CHICAGO - Ten-year-old Esraa Almadani is almost exactly the same age as the Syrian Civil War. She was only 40 days old when clashes between government forces and civilians first broke out in 2011.
The conflict has displaced more than 5 million people and claimed an estimated half a million lives, according to the United Nations. The 10th anniversary of the ongoing war stirs up many emotions for Syrian refugees who had to flee their homeland.
“It’s long time and makes me feel very dissatisfied and sadness. I miss my country of course. I miss my family — my mother, my father,” said Nawar Almadani, mother of Esraa.
Almadani resettled in Chicago in 2016 with the help of Refugee One, the largest refugee resettlement agency in the central state of Illinois, with her husband and four of their children after spending two years in Turkey. Her youngest daughter and fifth child, 2-year-old Yasmine, was born in the U.S.
Mohamed Almadani, 14, the family’s only son, dreams of becoming an electrical engineer and is heavily inspired by Elon Musk, business mogul and CEO of Tesla Motors.
Mohamed was only seven or eight years old when things took a violent turn in the Almdanis’ hometown of Homs, but he has some memories of his life in Syria, as well as of escaping to neighboring Turkey with his family.
Mohamed said he misses seeing extended family and playing with his cousins in a nearby park in his old neighborhood. He also remembers glass shattering in his home when shots were fired after the clashes started.
“That did scare me a lot,” he recalled. “I’ve never seen such a thing before.”
While Syrian refugees have been placed in big cities in the U.S., they’ve also been settled in less populated areas. Anas Allouz has been living in Kingston, a small town in the eastern state of Pennsylvania, with his parents, four brothers, and sister since 2015.
Like the Almadani family, his family is also from Homs. “Honestly, as Syrians, we never thought it was going to be that long,” he said referring to the war. “All we thought was we’re going to go out, speak, protesting and ask for our rights, and we will get what we will ask for, but we never thought it was going to be a lot of blood.”
Allouz, a teenager when the war started, experienced many traumatic events, including losing an uncle, holding a dying friend in his arms after he was shot for protesting, seeing his father get shot in the leg, and having his brother get arrested and jailed for five months without any contact with family.
“It was like very bad feelings — like you feel you’re not going to leave from this war alive, like it’s the end,” he said. “I felt like I was going to die in any second like other people, like my friends, my uncle.”
As the war continues, Almadani is glad that former U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees has been lifted and that other Syrians will have a chance at the same opportunities she and her children have been given in the United States.
“I want to thank this country, because they give me the right again to live with freedom,” she said. “When they see my ID in Turkey, they see I’m a refugee, so I don’t have any rights, but here it’s different. I feel that this is my home.”
Despite the raging conflict that has spanned a decade now, Syrian refugees remain hopeful that one day their country will be rebuilt, and it will be safe for them to visit.
“Syria — it was beautiful, and it will be back to being beautiful,” Allouz said. “We need Syria to come back for us.”