Barack Obama invites Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo to State of Union address

The President described Mr Hamo's story of fleeing Syria in 2013 and battling stomach cancer in Turkey as 'inspirational'

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The Independent US

Barack Obama has invited a Syrian refugee to attend his State of Union address, the White House has said.

Refaai Hamo, 55, will sit in the first lady’s box in the House of Representatives gallery for Tuesday night’s speech by the President, along with other inspirational people of America.

Mr Hamo fled Syria in 2013, and his invitation is symbolic of Mr Obama’s effort to counter Republican calls to ban Muslim refugees in the country in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California.

He received international attention last month after featuring on the popular blog, Humans of New York, which tells the stories of normal people in the city. Mr Obama called him an “inspiration” for his story.

Mr Hamo, a scientist, fled the war-torn country after his home was bombed, killing his wife, daughter and five other members of his family. After struggling to get treatment for stomach cancer in Turkey, Mr Hamo was approved to enter the United States two years later, where he arrived in Detroit last month with his other four children.

He said: “I was thrilled when I heard that President Barack Obama is welcoming us into the United States," reported USA Today.

“I felt that hope was revived as well as the strength to continue my dreams and ambition in my new country. I am so proud and honoured to be in this country and look forward to one day becoming an American citizen so that we can be part of making America a strong and great country."

A list of 23 people was released by the White House on Sunday, who the President hopes will represent the progress he has made in his seven years.

Among other guests will be Major Lisa Jaster, the first female army reservist to graduate from the elite Ranger School and Spencer Tone, the US Air Force sergeant who, along with two others, helped foil a terrorist attack on a French train. 

The White House say the list of guests “personify President Obama’s time in office and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.”

One seat in the first lady’s box with be left empty, which will represent victims of gun violence in America, after the President took steps to help reduce gun crime in America last week.