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Syrian Whose Plight Went Viral Finds Refuge In Spanish Soccer

MADRID - 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.

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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.

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Mohsen is proud of the way his sons have settled into school and learned good enough Spanish to help translate for him.

Yet the strain and worry of recent months is also evident. Mohsen has become something of a media star, as one of the few feel good stories to emerge from Europe's migrant crisis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are still trying to flee conflict and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.

He says he does up to three interviews a day.

But the attention has not yet helped him reunite his family, even though he says he has filed all the paperwork to apply for their visas.

"I need to relax more, I'm very tired," he says.

Spain's government said at the end of last year it would accept more than 17,000 refugees as part of EU-wide efforts to resettle asylum seekers.

So far it has only taken in 18 of those of 200 it pledged to welcome from Italy and Greece, according to the latest European Commission data, though more are expected to arrive from this month.

Spain will also take in 100 Syrian migrants from Turkey following a new EU pact to block the flow of migrants entering illegally through Greece and process them directly with Ankara instead.

It is unclear how that EU deal will affect Mohsen's situation.

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The family's love of soccer has brought them some solace as they wait for news. Mohammed plays in a local team too, while Zaid got to walk into Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium clutching superstar Cristiano Ronaldo's hand.

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Mohsen, meanwhile, is thankful his soccer links helped him find work in a country where unemployment still runs at over 20 percent. He hopes his experience coaching in Spain will one day benefit Syria as well.

"Maybe in future I can take this information for my country," he smiles.

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