AT the age of five, Mohammed Karou saw his world torn apart when his home town in Syria was bombed in 2012 during the civil war that has torn the country apart.
The little boy disappeared seemingly off the face of the earth, apparently another victim of the violence and madness that has struck Syria, and clearly it would take miracles to get him back to his parents and brother and sister. Sometimes miracles do happen… Officially posted missing, his family sometimes thought Mohammed was dead, and despite valiant efforts to find him in the chaos in Syria, his father Abedul Karou decided that for the sake of the rest of the family they would take refuge in Lebanon. In early 2016, they were accepted as refugees by Scotland, finally ending up in Midlothian a year ago this month.
Then the first miracle happened – Mohammed reappeared, turning up at the door of his aunt in Syria last May. He would not, could not, say where he had been for four years, but it was clear that he had been extremely traumatised in and around the battlefront.
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A frantic international campaign to reunite the Karou family began, led by Abedul, who smuggled himself back into Syria but could not get close to his son, and Midlothian Council staff and Owen Thompson, the SNP MP for Midlothian who raised the plight of the Karou family at Prime Minister’s Question Time last September.
Now a second miracle has happened, and Mohammed Karou is here in Scotland, reunited with his parents and his younger brother and sister in Midlothian.
How exactly that all happened is being kept secret because some of those responsible for Mohammed being here are constantly working behind the scenes in Syria. The Home Office insisted on a DNA test but Owen Thompson did credit the UK Government for finally getting the job of reunifying the family done.
The National was the only newspaper granted access to the family yesterday and we can report a third miracle – Mohammed is already recovering well from his ordeal and is somehow a typical ten-year-old boy, full of mischief and keen to get back to his favourite sport of football.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mohammed said: “I lost hope at some points. It was hopeless and I thought that I was not going to see my parents again. I was too young and had not been taught how to pray properly, and I had no connection to my religion, so I didn’t know what a prayer meant, but I always prayed in my heart.”
He is looking forward to playing again: “I like sport in general but I haven’t had the chance to play proper sport. Football is my favourite, and I hope to play it a lot.”
His prayers were answered, as were those of Abedul Karou whose face reflects his constant delight at the presence of his son. Despite our weather – “nine months winter and three months rain,” he joked – he is also hugely grateful to Scotland for harbouring his family and is effusive about the help and support he has had in the long fight to be reunited with Mohammed.
That reunion was a very special moment: “My eyes were full of tears and I didn’t really believe it until I could touch him and feel that he was here, really here, and then I knew it was him.
“He’s taller, he’s bigger now, but the only thing that I feel sorry about is that he has not had a proper childhood. I’m so happy, I cannot describe how happy I am, I’m overwhelmed. It really is a miracle to have him with me now.”
Mohammed is getting that childhood now – he complained of toothache from eating the sweets he has been showered with since arriving in Scotland.
We will probably never know how many times Mohammed came close to death, and he wasn’t saying yesterday.
His father has had some information: “The circumstances he was in were so harsh, the conditions were so chaotic in that part of Syria with everyone involved in the war fighting there – the (Assad) regime, IS, Turkish troops. Then you have the lack of medicines and the poverty that is everywhere.
“With the stream of bad news that kept coming from our homeland, with families losing sons, and others having to flee as refugees, it was always as if my son was part of that nightmare and we just didn’t know what had happened to him. “It’s been a long journey, and been up and down like waves, some day he is going to come and the next day he isn’t, but we had the reassurance of my MP and our Midlothian Council support worker Ann Marie that one day it would happen and that we just needed to be patient.”
Owen Thompson, who credited his case worker Karen Green with a lot of the work, said: “What you want to do when you go into politics is try and help people and from this, one of the most extreme circumstances I have ever come across, to get such a positive outcome for the family is just brilliant.” Ann Marie Campbell is the social work assistant at Midlothian Council who helps the family. She said: “It has been very intense, but working with them has been lovely and it’s been great to be involved and see such a positive outcome.”
Councillor Kelly Parry said: “I am incredibly proud of the record of Midlothian Council in terms of bringing as many refugees here as we can accommodate, and doing it very well. The team from the council have been fantastic in their support for all the families settled here.” Mohammed has ambitions for the future. Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he was as definite as any ten-year-old: “I want to be a doctor…or a pilot.”
At least now he can contemplate such a future in the safety and security that Scotland is giving him and his family – Ceud Mìle Fàilte, Mohammed.