A Syrian refugee will be a guest of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama for the president’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night. Refaai Hamo, a Syrian scientist and cancer survivor seeking a fresh start for his family in Michigan, is among about two dozen guests invited to sit near the first lady in the House gallery who will highlight issues that President Barack Obama has championed during his tenure.
“That kind of passion and perseverance are at the heart of this great country,” Michelle Obama said in an email statement Sunday.
Hamo, his son and three daughters fled to Turkey from Syria after a missile attack killed seven of his family, including his wife and one other daughter. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer while in Turkey, where he was unable to make a living without a residence permit and couldn’t get treatment without insurance or health benefits. After two years, Hamo and his family received refugee status to move to Troy, Michigan. They landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in December.
Hamo was featured on the popular photo blog Humans of New York as “The Scientist,” and his story caught the eye of the first family. “Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we're proud that you'll pursue your dreams here,” the president wrote on Facebook in response to Hamo’s story last month. “Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.”
More than 4 million Syrians — half of them children — have fled the war-torn Middle East country since civil war broke out nearly five years ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund said in September. Obama has called for the country to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country during the current fiscal year, despite opposition from Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates who say they present a terrorism risk.