Fort Worth

Displaced by bombings, Syrian family finds peace in Fort Worth

Mohamad's 5-year-old daughter lost her leg during bombing of their home in Syria.
Mohamad's 5-year-old daughter lost her leg during bombing of their home in Syria. Star-Telegram

Mohamad and his family live with constant reminders of the bombings they endured in Syria.

One attack took the left leg of his now-5-year-old daughter. Another caused his 11-year-old son to lose two fingers.

During a bombing the night before they fled in December 2012, Mohamad was shaken to his core.

“I am a man old enough, but I was really scared,” Mohamad, 35, who speaks Arabic, said through an interpreter. “The ground was shaking underneath. There was fire in the sky.”

White phosphorus rockets were being fired, Mohamad said, and he feared they would burn his family.

“It burns,” said Mohamad, who asked that his full name not be published because he still fears for his remaining relatives in Syria. “It was really smelling like gas.”

By New Year’s Eve 2012, Mohamad and his family had fled to Beirut, where he said life was “really hard.”

After a series of moves, they ended up in Tarrant County in March.

“It was a scary decision, but it was either stay and get killed by bombing or try to find shelter for my kids,” he said.

Today, they are among 32 Syrians who have resettled in Tarrant County.

Their journey mirrors that of millions of Syrians who have fled their homeland because of a civil war and the oppressive presence of the Islamic State, or ISIS. More than 200,000 people have been killed since the war began in 2011.

From October through July, nonprofit agencies placed more than 1,300 Syrian refugees in the U.S., including 150 in Texas.

And on Thursday, as the refugees’ migration into Europe intensified — and as a photograph of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian child who washed up on a Turkish beach continues to draw attention to the refugees’ plight — President Barack Obama directed his administration to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next fiscal year.

“It is really terrible,” said Mike Auman, director of refugee services for Catholic Charities Fort Worth. “It is the biggest migration since World War II.”

A growing need

The United States typically takes in 60,000 to 70,000 refugees a year, according to resettlement experts in Tarrant County.

Texas has received the most refugees in recent years, including 7,466 in fiscal 2013, according to State Department statistics. California was second with 6,379, followed by Michigan with 4,651.

In 2014, Tarrant County helped resettle 1,865 refugees — mostly from Myanmar, Iraq and Somalia.

As the violence continues in Syria, local refugee advocates say they expect — and hope — to aid more displaced Syrians in coming months.

“While an increase in annual refugee numbers is positive progress, there is continued need to advocate and pressure the U.S. government to provide shelter to even larger numbers,” said Laila Amara, area director for Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth.

“There are currently 60 million refugees worldwide; 11 million of those are Syrians, who are living in dire circumstances and are in need of a durable solution. The United States has the capacity to provide refuge to even larger numbers than those being proposed,” Amara said.

World Relief, Catholic Charities and Refugee Services of Texas are local nonprofits that work with the federal government to resettle refugees in Tarrant County.

Auman said his agency has not received any Syrians but is prepared to help those who might arrive after Obama’s order.

Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth has helped resettle 18 of the 32 Syrians in Tarrant County. The organization is also helping Mohamad and his family.

Amara said Syrians face long refugee processing — 18 to 24 months — because they have to undergo intense security and background checks.

But some, including U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican who lives in suburban Austin, have voiced opposition to allowing more Syrian refugees. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he is concerned that the Islamic State could use the refugee system to “sneak operatives into the West.”

‘We cried blood’

Mohamad and his family arrived in Fort Worth this spring after he petitioned for refugee status through the United Nations in June 2014.

His reasoning was simple: He sought a safer life for his family.

In Syria, he said: “There was no education. There was no healthcare. There was no food.

“There was no safety.”

He vividly remembers the first bombing at the family’s home in the Idlib province, during a Ramadan celebration on July 24, 2012.

“We were waiting and gathering around the table to start eating,” Mohamad said. “Suddenly, there was a bombing by a military tank. We just saw part of the house destroyed.”

As the smoke cleared, Mohamad said, his family was scattered on the ground. His little girl, then a toddler learning to walk, had a severely injured left leg. In that moment, he felt the blood drain from his body.

“We looked like ghosts,” he said.

The family had to drive to Turkey, about two hours away, to get medical help for the girl. Her left leg couldn’t be saved.

“It was really hard,” Mohamad said. “We had to be patient. We cried blood.”

More than a month later, when the family tried to get back to a routine, one of his sons was at a nearby market that was bombed. A boy was killed in that bombing, Mohamad said.

“My son came to my home and showed me his hand,” Mohamad said. “He lost two of his fingers.”

Mohamad, his wife and their four children now live in an apartment in south Fort Worth, almost 7,000 miles from Syria. His little girl has a prosthetic leg. He works as a car mechanic in Euless.

“I feel like a human being,” Mohamad said.

He and his family are adjusting to their new freedom, trying to learn the ways of this country.

“My goal is to have a normal, very good life,” Mohamad said. “I just want to live. In our country, the regimes — it is always a dictator regime. There’s killings, bombings and war. Here, you cannot find these things.”

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1