Stuck in Syria: Immigrant living in Fort Collins tells story of his family as refugees

Megan Fischer

Radwan Kalaaji lives in Fort Collins with his wife, daughters, son and mother-in-law, who escaped from Syria about two and a half years ago after spending time in the United Arab Emirates.

For many years, a civil war in Syria has raged on. But recently, it has escalated due to the creation of the Islamic State in the Middle East, said Kalaaji.

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Radwan Kalaaji, a Syrian living in Fort Collins explains the current situation in Syria and the origins of the war that broke out in 2011. Kalaaji has family taht is still in Syria; many of them have lost their homes and are now refugees. (Photo Credit: Megan Fischer)
Radwan Kalaaji, a Syrian living in Fort Collins, explains the current situation in Syria and the origins of the war that broke out in 2011. Kalaaji has family that is still in Syria. Many of them have lost their homes and are now refugees. (Photo Credit: Megan Fischer)

Kalaaji said he has a very big family. He estimated about 400 people in total.

“There is probably about one-third of them still there,” Kalaaji said.

Some of Kalaaji’s family has gone to places around like Turkey, Algeria, Egypt and countries in Europe, while some have made it to the United States and Australia.

“There are a lot of figures for the amount of refugees who have escaped Syria,” Kalaaji said. “I have heard ones that said 4 to 5 million, ones that say 11 million and ones that say 14 million. The number I believe in is 11 million. The population of Syria before this happened was 23 million.”

The war in Syria is a result of the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East, Kalaaji said.

“About 80 percent of Syria is now destroyed,” Kalaaji said.

In 2010, Kalaaji went to visit Syria for the first time in 32 years and said he noticed things were different.

“You cannot imagine what is going on,” Kalaaji said. “They have no hope to continue living there anymore. Everyone wants to leave.”

Kalaaji said communication between him and his family is sporadic because Internet and cell phone service is not always running well.

“Sometimes we cannot talk for weeks and sometimes we can talk every day,” Kalaaji said. “It depends on the situation.”

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At an event to increase awareness of the Syrian refugees and raise money for the Syrian refugee crisis, people attended to hear Kalaaji’s story.

“My heart hurts for what’s happening there,” said Kyle Traff, a Fort Collins community member who attended the event with his family. “I think we all wish we could do more, but one little step at a time is where we are right now.”

Some of the money raised at the event went to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which was marked for Syria. Some went to Kalaaji to send to his family directly.

“I just cry every time I hear what he’s going through,” said Eleanor Dwight, the president of the United Nations Association of Northern Colorado. “Can you imagine waking up every morning and wondering how your family is doing?”

The war is different for his family every day, Kalaaji said.

“When they are waking up, they don’t know if by the end of the day they will be alive or not,” Kalaaji said. “And when they go to bed, they don’t know whether they will stay alive until the morning.”

Within various cities in Syria, Kalaaji said the living situations are getting worse.

“Every day is worse than the day before,” Kalaaji said. “They have no electricity, no running water, the Internet was shut off. Now they have 3G and sometimes they can send a text message with Whatsapp, and sometimes they can talk with Viber.”

Kalaaji talked about the numbers killed in Syria and his city.

“Everyone who is killed is my family,” Kalaaji said.

Collegian International Beat Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @MegFischer04.