The Current

Years after fleeing war-torn Syria, this man learns what's left of his old home

When the UN's Chris Reardon found himself in Hani Al Moulia's old neighbourhood in Homs, Syria, he wrote a letter to share his observations. The two friends reconnect in a discussion with Anna Maria Tremonti, and Al Moulia, now settled in Canada, processes what's left of his old life.

'The idea of home, even the physical home, has changed after we lost everything,' said Hani Al Moulia

Life is slowly returning to this street in the Juret Al Shayah district of Homs, Syria, where long years of conflict displaced most of the population and destroyed many buildings. (© UNHCR/Christopher Reardon)

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Hearing what remains of his childhood home in Homs, Syria, is a surreal experience for Hani Al Moulia.

"It's really difficult to imagine that this place still exists. I remember the people and the memories, but I can't really reconnect with the place itself," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 
Hani Al Moulia was preparing to go to university when the war in Syria broke out. One of the only things he brought with him when fleeing was his high school diploma. (Submitted by Hani Al Moulia)

Al Moulia, then 18, and his family fled Homs, in western Syria, for a refugee camp in Lebanon in 2012. While there, he met Chris Reardon, the UN Refugee Agency's chief of content.

This year, Reardon found himself in Al Moulia's old neighbourhood. He knew he had a unique opportunity, so he took notes of what he saw as he explored the now-deserted part of town.

Reardon described the experience as "profoundly uncomfortable ... witnessing the aftermath of a deeply personal tragedy."

In an open letter he penned to Al Moulia, Reardon wrote: "I stopped by your house today, but you weren't home. No one was home. Your parents weren't there to join us for tea, and there was no sign of your brothers or sisters. Your neighbours were away, too."

"I would have knocked, but your front door is missing."

Al Moulia has spent so long trying to forget what he left behind that when Reardon described the house's current state, the emotions were complex.

"This is the place where I grew up. I can't really describe thinking about this," he said. "The idea of home, even the physical home, has changed after we lost everything."

This is the home where Hani Al Moulia grew up in Homs, Syria. The windows and doors have been stripped away, the electrical outlets and wiring have been removed, the roof has caved in, and rubble covers the floors. (© UNHCR/Christopher Reardon)

In 2015, his family settled safely in Regina, Sask. Al Moulia has picked up where he left off with his education as a computer engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto.

"I was ready to come to Canada," Al Moulia said. "Every morning I think about, still, those who are the unlucky ones who didn't make it to such a place."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by Jessica Linzey.