When President Obama gives his final State of the Union address on Tuesday one guest in attendance will ensure that the issue of resettling refugees takes center stage.
Refaai Hamo, a Syrian scientist who was recently resettled in Troy, Michigan, first rose to fame while in Turkey. His story was highlighted by the widely-followed Facebook page Humans of New York (HONY), who documented refugees’ stories earlier this year. Actor Edward Norton was so moved by the story that he started a fundraising campaign that has since raised over $463,000.
Appearing in a satin suit, the sallow father of four tells HONY the story of his precocious knack for science as a child. Hamo’s achievements can be likened to the stereotypical “American dream,” so to speak, as he pursued a PhD while working construction jobs at night. Once an established professional, Hamo built his family a compound.
The compound was later attacked by the government. Seven of the 16 people who perished were Hamo’s family members, including his wife and daughter. He said his son is now suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder and his daughter still has shrapnel in her neck. As a Syrian, he couldn’t find work in Turkey. A local university is teaching a book he wrote but wouldn’t give him a job, he said.
“We survived but we’re dead psychologically,” Hamo told HONY. “Everything ended for us that day. That was our destiny.”
There are currently more than 4.3 million refugees from Syria. Most are residing in countries that neighbor Syria like Turkey (1.8 million), Jordan (664,000), and Lebanon (1.2 million) where they can’t work and have few prospects for the future. Obama vowed to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees next year and some Democrat members of Congress called for as many as 65,000. But following the attacks in November and San Bernardino, a number of state governors and Republican presidential candidates called for a halt to Syrian refugee resettlement.
“It’s not that we don’t want to [let in Syrian refugees],” Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said in an interview with ABC, citing security concerns. “It’s that we can’t.”
Refugees like Hamo though show just what a country can gain by continuing to let in those in desperate situations. “I still think I have a chance to make a difference in the world. I have several inventions that I’m hoping to patent once I get to America,” Hamo said, citing a number of inventions, including a plane that can fly 48 hours without fuel, a device that can predict earthquakes weeks in advance, and a device that generates electricity from the movements of trains. The last one is currently being used by Istanbul’s metro system, he said.
“I just want a place to do my research. I learned today that I’m going to Troy, Michigan. I know nothing about it,” Hamo said. “I just hope that it’s safe and that it’s a place where they respect science. I just want to get back to work. I want to be a person again. I don’t want the world to think I’m over. I’m still here.”