Syrian whose plight went viral finds refuge in Spanish soccer

Thu May 5, 2016 6:34am EDT
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By Sergio Perez

MADRID (Reuters) - Mementos from the soccer world that brought Syrian refugee Osama Abdul Mohsen to Spain are strewn around the flat he shares with two of his sons, including a ball signed by Real Madrid's star players and a banner for the local team, Getafe.

But reminders of the makeshift nature of his new life are also everywhere, seven months after a Spanish sports academy offered Mohsen a home and help in finding a job when they heard he used to coach a first division team in Syria.

The apartment that well-wishers have housed him in is adorned with someone else's trinkets, including rows of encyclopedias in Spanish, a language Mohsen still struggles to speak. And half his family is missing.

Mohsen's story went viral after he was filmed being tripped up by a camera woman as he fled police near the Hungarian border with Serbia last September. He was carrying his youngest son Zaid, then 7, in his arms at the time, and the two fell sprawling on the ground.

Footage of the incident helped bring him to the attention of a soccer training school in Getafe on the outskirts of Madrid, which found him work as a liaison officer. Zaid, now a year older, as well as 17-year-old Mohammed, who was in Germany at the time, live in the neighborhood with their father.

Mohsen's wife and two other children remain in Mersin, southern Turkey. The family left the war-torn Syrian town of Deir el-Zor together around four years ago.

"I see my future here," says Mohsen, whose eyes light up when talking, in broken English, about the local junior team he sometimes helps train, Villaverde-Boetticher.

For a Reuters Wider Image photo essay on Mohsen in Spain, click on:   Continued...

Osama Abdul Mohsen, a Syrian refugee, whistles during a training session with his junior team in Villaverde, a neighbourhood in Madrid, Spain, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Perez