‘It wasn’t war when it started,’ says former refugee, remembering the 10th anniversary of the Syrian war.

·3 min read

It’s been 10 years since the start of the Syrian civil war and Mohammad Al Masalma remembers, every day, what he and his family experienced in his home country.

“I would never (forget). When I left Syria, I had one of those rubber bands that you wear on your wrist. I had the Syrian flag on my hand. I swore that I will never take it off until I actually get my Canadian citizenship,” said Masalma in a phone interview.

Masalma, who has been living in Halifax for five years and owns Mosy Photography, received his Canadian citizenship on Sunday, March 15. The colours on his band have faded noticeably. But, still, he wears it.

“Every day I look at it, it reminds me of what I've been through and what I've become right now,” he said.

Malsalma has family members scattered all over the world and every year on March 18, they gathered online to remember what happened in Syria.

Although for many March 15, 2011, is considered the start of the Syrian uprising, for Malsalma the anniversary is March 18, when unarmed protesters were killed in Darra, his home city.

Malsalma said many people don’t realize the civil war didn’t start violently but rather with a protest against the regime.

“The big misconception is people calling it war. I guess it's war now, but it wasn't war when it started. It was a revolution against the dictatorship regime,” said Malsalma.

The peaceful pro-democracy protests Malsalma mentioned started as early as January in 2011 and were reported by numerous media outlets including BBC, UN News, and Reuters.

Nova Scotia is one of the first provinces to welcome Syrian refugees. Since 2015, the province has welcomed 3,800 Syrian refugees, according to federal government data.

Although they have left the war-torn area and found themselves a safe place to live, the war still has an impact on their lives here.

“The war continues to affect the lives of the Syrians in Nova Scotia because they are separated from their families with no real hope of being reunited, “said Leno Ribhani, president of Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society (HEARTS), in a written statement.

HEARTS is a local organization that helps Syrian refugees settle in the province. Ribhani and the organization offer a range of community support to help the Syrian diaspora in the city to overcome the trauma and better integrate into the province.

Ribhani said many refugees are scared to speak up as they fear retribution will be taken out upon their family members who are still living in Syria.

“Because of the uncertainty of the war refugees are often scared to speak up as they fear retribution will be taken out upon their family members still living in the country,” said Ribhani.

Lu Xu is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.

Lu Xu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald