Don’t be afraid.
That, in essence, was the message Monday from a Syrian dad to Americans as he went before cameras to thank the United States for welcoming him and his refugee family to their new country.
“God bless Kansas City," Ahmad al-Abboud, 45, said at a news conference via a translator, a broad smile creasing his scarred face. “People are nice, everything is nice, the trees are nice.”
The married father of five said that, as the head of the first Syrian family to be resettled in the U.S. from Jordan as part of the latest “surge operation,” people will be looking at him to be a role model.
Asked if he was up to the challenge, he replied: "Definitely."
“He sees the kindness of the American people he has met here,” his translator said. “He is the type of person who loves everybody. If his neighbor feels sick, he feels sick. That’s how he grew up.”
Asked what he would say to Americans fearful of Syrian refugees, al-Abboud had a ready answer for his interpreter.
“There is absolutely nothing to worry the American people,” the translator said. “The Syrian refugees are seeking a life with dignity, a better life for their family and kids.”
Al-Abboud, he said, "will be doing his best to insure that he fits in with everybody."
The al-Abbouds are among 1,000 Syrian escapees from the civil war tearing up their country who got the greenlight to come to the U.S. last October — over the objections of mostly Republican lawmakers who have raised fears there could be Islamic terrorists in their midst.
In neighboring Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order in November saying the state would not help with the relocation of refugees.
Al-Abboud said he was a construction worker in his hometown of Homs. He said the scars on his nose and body are from a bomb dropped by Syrian despot Bashar Assad’s air force that riddled his body with shrapnel. He also described his family’s perilous escape to Jordan.
“There were more and more snipers the closer he got to the border,” his translator said.
Once in Jordan, the family found itself living first in a refugee camp and then in a windowless storage container in Mafraq, north of Amman, and struggling to survive “on government coupons.”
“His kids don’t see the sun unless they go outside,” the translator said. “It was a constant struggle.”
Al-Abboud said he was shocked when he found out they were moving to America after three years in Jordan. He and his wife have a 12-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old daughter, 5-year-old fraternal twins, and a 1-year-old son named Mohammed.
And all have already been outfitted with Kansas City Royals T-shirts, officials said at the news conference.
“His first hope is for all of them to learn the English language,” his translator said. “He also said earlier the other hope that he has is for his kids is to have a wonderful education. They are very smart.”