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Syrian Refugee's Tragic Story Earns White House Recognition

  • Raveen Dosky Kajjo

Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo shakes hands with President Barack Obama on Jan. 12, 2016, at the State of the Union speech. (Courtesy of Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York)

Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo shakes hands with President Barack Obama on Jan. 12, 2016, at the State of the Union speech. (Courtesy of Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York)

Syrian Kurdish refugee Refaai Hamo never dreamed his tragic story would someday lead him to a sit next to America's First Lady in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

"It was great feeling," he told VOA's Kurdish service, after he was one of 23 guests in Michelle Obama's box during this week's State of the Union speech.

Hamo, 55, fled to Turkey in 2013 and later came to the United States, after a Syrian government anti-personnel missile killed seven of his family members, including his wife and a daughter.

His story caught the attention of the White House after it was posted late last year on a popular Facebook page titled "Humans of New York." President Barack Obama read his story and mentioned it publicly, calling him "an inspiration.”

"As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you have endured," Obama wrote in a comment on the Facebook page.

"You can still make a difference in the world and we're proud that you'll pursue your dreams here," Obama wrote. "Welcome to your new home. You're part of what makes America great."

'Affected by memories'

Hamo's story has attracted widespread attention in social media.

After the bombing in Aleppo, Hamo left for Turkey but could not work because he lacked a permit. Hamo then found he had stomach cancer, but recovered despite struggling to find treatment with no medical insurance.

FILE - Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo addresses the media during a news conference in Romulus, Mich.

FILE - Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo addresses the media during a news conference in Romulus, Mich.

Last year, the U.S. granted him refugee status, and he moved to Troy, Michigan, with three daughters.

Hamo told VOA that the tragedy his family faced has taken a psychological toll on him and his children.

"My children are a little bit better," he said. "But just as everyone else, they are still affected by memories. My daughter still has a piece of a rocket shell in her neck. Today, they are trying to lead a normal life by going to school and meeting new people."

Hamo, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering, told VOA it was an honor to meet Obama this week and discuss Syria's civil war.

"President Obama is one of the kindest and most intellectual people I have ever met," he said.

Regarding his future, Hamo said he hoped to resume his career as an engineer and a scientist in America. He recently discussed with American counterparts his invention of an earthquake detection device that he used in Syria.

"A group of scientists met with me at the [U.S.] State Department and we discussed future work together," he said. "They were very happy to see what I had to offer."

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