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Syrian refugees find rare path to Chicago

Syrian refugee Fadi Adris, center, and his sons Abdel Hamid, rear, and Osama are adjusting to life in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

For nearly four years, Fatima and Fadi Adris and their family have been fleeing the brutal civil war in their native Syria.

Before their world collapsed around them, they were living happily in Homs, the nation's third-largest city, where they met, were married and had their first child. They made a good home for themselves. He worked as a painter. She went to school to learn English. But in 2011, that all ended.

"We were sitting in my house when … it was destroyed over our heads," said Fadi Adris, recalling the bomb that leveled the family home.

So began their desperate flight to safety. At once shocking and all too familiar, their harrowing story of bombings, executions and refugee camps before finding a safe haven in Chicago is just one of thousands coming out of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Middle East and Europe.

The three-generation family fled to Damascus, about 100 miles south, but within five months, the violence caught up to them and claimed the lives of Fatima Adris' eldest brother, who was shot in the street, and her father, who also was gunned down.

"We were very, very afraid," Fatima Adris said. "We hid in destroyed buildings. Whenever we would see a soldier, (my son Abdel Hamid) would hold me and shout, 'Soldier!'"

The surviving relatives managed to escape by bus to Lebanon, where the once tightknit family was further fractured. Fatima Adris' mother and two sisters found refuge in Turkey. Her two brothers circumvented the refugee process and took a boat to Hungary and eventually made their way to Germany. Her niece, whose father died, followed a college acceptance letter to France.

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