KINGSTON — Anas Allouz has photos of his hometown of Homs, Syria, in his Kingston home where he lives with his parents, three brothers and sister.
The first photo he holds up depicts a beautiful and vibrant city full of life.
The other shows a dull gray mess of rubble and destroyed homes and buildings.
Anas, 23, said these photos are the “before and after” of the Syrian Civil War, which forced him and his family to flee the country in 2012, a year after fighting broke out.
“If (people) visit my country before the war, they will love it — (they would love) the people in the country and see how welcoming they are.”
Before moving to the Wyoming Valley area in 2015 through the United Nations’ refugee program, the Allouzes lived in Jordan for three years.
March 15 marked the seventh anniversary of the deadly civil war. Most recently, more than 1,200 civilians have been killed in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the capital Damascus, according to the Associated Press.
Bilal Allouz, 24, Anas’ older brother, does not picture himself returning to Syria even if the war ends since he has found work in the U.S. and has also made new friends.
“Everything is different in my country, because my country is not the same as before,” he said. “I can’t go back there.”
However, both Bilal and Anas said they would like to visit as they still have many friends and relatives in Homs and Damascus. Anas also said they try to contact the people they’ve left behind as much as possible. But it gets tough because sometimes Syrians do not have internet, electric or phone service for up to two weeks due to constant instability.
“It was six years I didn’t see any of my friends or relatives,” said Anas. “I just talk to them, send pictures, and trying to connect with them just to see if they are still alive, because some of them were killed and we don’t know anything about them.”
‘Make my life’
The Allouzes have experienced some xenophobia since the 2016 presidential election, but overall their experience within the Northeastern Pennsylvania community has been a positive one.
Bilal and Anas attend Marywood University in Scranton, and Anas takes courses at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke as well.
They said other students as well as instructors help them with their English since they both continue to fine-tune their language skills.
“The teachers are very helping,” said Anas. “They had a lot of patience.”
Rama Allouz, 10, the baby of the family, attends Dana Street Elementary School in Kingston and has made lots of friends there.
“I like it. It’s very nice and outside of school, it’s very nice,” she said, while sitting in between her older brothers in the family’s sun room. “Everybody helps and they’re all helpful.”
Rama also had the opportunity to write a sentence in Arabic, her native language, for her peers on her classroom’s blackboard.
Anas wanted to make it clear his family is not looking for sympathy or a handout.
“I want to work,” he said. “I want to make my life.”
Sonya Sarner, program director for Refugee and Immigration Services with Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, helped the Allouzes settle when they first arrived in the area. She still keeps in touch with them.
Sarner agrees that most refugees want to work and live like other Americans.
“They’re not coming here to go on welfare or to take U.S. citizens’ jobs,” Sarner said. “They’re here only to be safe and to see their children safe.”
Catholic Social Services has resettled seven Syrian refugee families in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton since the war started in 2011. Sarner said that many of the families have accomplished a great deal since moving to the area, such as purchasing their own homes and starting businesses.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said.
The Allouz brothers are also in the process of opening a Middle Eastern restaurant on Main Street in downtown Wilkes-Barre in the near future pending the necessary approvals and inspections.
According to a statement from the Diocese of Scranton, the last Syrian family to be resettled in NEPA was in December 2016. Sarner said there are no current plans to resettle more Syrian refugees, but the Diocese is certainly open to doing so if the opportunity should arise.