First Lady to Host Syrian Refugee at State of the Union Address

By Shani Saxon-Parrish Jan 11, 2016

In keeping with the White House pledge to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S., First Lady Michelle Obama has invited a cancer-stricken Syrian refugee who lost his wife and one of his daughters in a missle attack to the president’s final State of the Union address tonight, Jan. 12.

Back in Syria, Refaai Hamo had no health insurance and couldn’t afford treatment for his cancer, reports the New York Times. He still worked as a scientist and maintained a home with his five children and wife. After his wife—his college sweetheart—and one of his daughters were killed in the missle attack, Hamo and his remaining four children fled to Istanbul, Turkey, before landing in the Detroit area last month.

Hamo was profiled on the Humans of New York (HONY) blog in early December. On the HONY Facebook page, President Obama posted a message that said, in part, "…Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we’re proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home." The actor Ed Norton has raised more than $464,000 for the family in an online campaign inspired by the blog.

Hamo will join more than 20 others as guests of the First Lady tonight. Each person will represent a key issue for President Obama including expanded health care and same-sex marriage. One seat will be left empty in honor of victims of gun violence. (Click here to see a full list of Obama’s special guests.)

In other SOTU guest news, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza is set to attend the address with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who tweeted,  "Looking forward to welcoming #BlackLivesMatter co-creator,@aliciagarza, as my #SOTU guest. She’s a powerful voice for justice and reform" on January 7.