First Syrian refugee family to resettle in Richmond speaks out

First Syrian refugee family to resettle in Richmond speaks out

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The first and only family to escape the civil war in Syria and resettle in the Richmond region is speaking about their experiences to NBC12.

Mohamad Ghanoum, his wife, four children, and father resettled in the Richmond area back in June after years of unrest and terror.

The bombings began in 2011 with the Syrian government's violent response to anti-government, pro-democracy demonstrations. The peaceful protests escalated and began happening countrywide, as armed opposition groups began fighting back. The country's civil war began as groups formed to battle the government for control of cities and towns across the country. The fighting reached the capital, Damascus, in 2012 and soon the town of Jobar, where the Ghanoum family lived.

"It's starting because the rebels and the government are bombing each other," Ghanoum said. "I could not forget that day because it was at night and when we started to run away from our houses, we start jumping from house to house to run from the fight."

The Ghanoum family left their hometown and went to stay with family in an area where the fighting hadn't reached yet.

"We stayed there 210 days, seven months," Ghanoum said.

They planned to go back to Jobar once the war was finished but instead, it intensified and the fighting spread. The family left, renting one room near the city of Damascus. The family lived in terror, every day.

"My youngest always ask me, 'Daddy, are we going to live for tomorrow?'" Ghanoum said.

There was a shortage of food and living expenses skyrocketed. Ghanoum had to stop working and his kids had to stop going to school.

It was risky to even leave the house. The family watched as friends and family were injured, and some even died.

"There is no meaning to still live there, and my children they insist and told me, peace daddy," Ghanoum said. "Take us away from this place."

The Ghanoum's left Syria, traveling to find refuge in Turkey.  It was in Turkey where the United Nations approached them, asking to register them into the immigration program.

"During the year, they interview me and my family several times before we travel to the United States," Ghanoum said.

The Ghanoum family are seven of only 100 Syrians resettled in Virginia. They are the only family chosen by resettlement agencies in Washington DC to resettle so far in Richmond.

Kate Ayers, the Executive Director for Reestablish Richmond, explained how the process works.

"Someone compared it to a fantasy football draft," Ayers said. "People are sitting around like I would like this family because maybe, I have their family member in this community or maybe we have a high number of speakers of that language."

Reestablish Richmond is a local nonprofit that supports refugees and helps them establish roots in the community.

Ayers and her team are helping the Ghanoum family create a life in Central Virginia.

"They are here starting from zero, so it takes a long time to where you can fully be independent," Ayers said.

Independence is what the Ghanoum family seek so they can contribute to the country that is helping and accepting them.

When asked about the United States presidential election and the Syrian Refugee debate, Mr. Ghanoum said, "I want to say something to the United States citizen from my heart. First, I want to thank them and all the words of thanking and gratitude would not be enough for them. I want to say the Syrian people are not terrorists - they are just seeking to find [a] better life for their kids."

The civil war in Syria is still going strong. More than 11 million people have been killed or forced from their homes and more than six million have been internally displaced.

Organizations like Reestablish Richmond are helping these refugees and others that resettle in the community. Click here if you want to donate to the organization.

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