Reporter Shannan Ferry profiles a Syrian immigrant who has found political asylum in the United States, as part of the Spectrum News special "Immigration in America." Watch more on Spectrum News’ hour-long special premiering May 24th at 8pm.
Ahed Festuk, 30, remembers her upbringing in Aleppo, Syria, as quiet and calm. Her dad owned a restaurant, while her mom raised six children.
That simple life took a dramatic turn in 2011, after the Arab Spring uprisings. Festuk began taking part in demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad.
"Our demonstration, we started really peacefully," Festuk recalls. "We say, 'Free, free Syria,' and we saw the Syrian army around us, and they shot immediately to people who protesting against Assad regime."
Festuk was shot in the elbow during a demonstration. When her home was bombed, her family decided to leave Syria and find a safer place to live.
Festuk chose to stay in Aleppo and continue her work as an activist. She also began volunteering at a nearby hospital. The hospital was later bombed and her best friend was killed.
Festuk saw death and destruction around her every single day.
"It is really hard to lose your best friend, your best relative in front of you," Festuk says. "You ask yourself, 'Why? Why does all this happen?”"
Life in Syria continued to get more dangerous, and Festuk wondered how much longer she could stay alive in her native country. She said her decision to move to the United States came after attending conferences in D.C. and New York, where she spoke about her activism. During this visit, Festuk said several humanitarian groups offered to help her apply for political asylum.
Festuk now lives in Brooklyn, and wants to use her platform to let others know about the situation in Syria and her life there.
"The crazy thing is everything happened, and the whole world was seeing, but nobody did anything," she says.
Festuk is now taking English classes and eventually hopes to go to college and study human rights. Festuk enjoys her life in New York City, but still hopes to go back to Syria someday and continue her life there.
"I left everything behind me, amazing friends, and even after all this damage happened, it’s still an amazing country in my eyes," Festuk says. "I miss everything, sometimes I feel I miss my memory."
She hopes Assad will be removed from power someday so she can return to the country she loves.