LIFE

Banned from US: ‘You need to go back to your country’

Hamidyah Al Saeedi, an Iraqi was flying from Qatar with a visa to join her son, who had become a US citizen and joined the Army, after she was released from detention at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, January 29, 2017. — Pictures by Victor J. Blue/The New York TimesHamidyah Al Saeedi, an Iraqi was flying from Qatar with a visa to join her son, who had become a US citizen and joined the Army, after she was released from detention at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, January 29, 2017. — Pictures by Victor J. Blue/The New York TimesNEW YORK, Jan 31 — Social media shook with emotion. Headlines shouted the news. Legal scholars debated the order’s scope. But the most immediate effect of President Donald Trump’s executive order barring refugees from entering the United States and halting entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries could be quantified on a human scale: refugees and other immigrants from those seven countries, some on their way to the United States on Friday when Trump signed the order, who were no longer able to enter the United States.

Here are some of their stories.

Fuad Shareef’s family, Iraq

Hearing of Trump’s plan to slam the door on Muslim immigrants this week, Shareef hurried his wife and three children onto a plane in Irbil, Iraq, early Saturday. They had been cleared to resettle in Nashville, Tennessee — a new life that Shareef considered a great opportunity. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Shareef worked as a translator with US officials, and received death threats. But after the Shareefs arrived in Cairo on Saturday, a check-in official spoke to Shareef.

“He said they had just received an email from the US Embassy in Baghdad,” Shareef said. “It said we could not get on the flight.”

Speaking by phone from an airport lounge, Shareef said he had sold the family home and car. His wife had given up her job. His two daughters, 10 and 17, had quit school. He had spent US$5,000 (RM22,147) on flights.

“I thought in America there are institutions, democracy,” he said. “This looks like a decision from a dictator. I don’t understand.”

“Donald Trump ruined my life,” he said.

Nisrin Omer, Sudan

Omer, 39, is a green card holder and has lived in the United States since 1993. She graduated from Harvard University and the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school, which counts Ivanka Trump among its alumni. On Friday night Omer was detained at Kennedy International Airport in New York as she returned from Sudan, where she is a citizen, after a research trip for her anthropology Ph.D. at Stanford University.

Omer said customs officials were apologetic and appeared confused about what they were supposed to do with the detained travellers. “I have to do this,” one told her. For five hours they asked about her travels, her academic research and her views on Sudanese politics, which they admitted to knowing little about.

At one point, she said, they aggressively patted her down and handcuffed her. They removed the restraints when she began to cry, but the detainees brought in for questioning after her arrived in handcuffs, she said.

“For the brief moment I was handcuffed, I couldn’t control myself and I just started crying,” Omer said. “It was humiliating. I thought I was going to be returned to Sudan.”

After Omer was released she said she felt like one of the lucky ones.

“There are a lot of people being treated much worse or are being sent back,” she said. “If they get sent back to Iraq or Syria it is a life-or-death situation.”

Ali Abdi, Iran

Abdi, 30, an Iranian PhD student at Yale with permanent residency in the United States, said he left America on January 22 for Afghanistan, where he planned to do field research for much of the next year. He had participated in the women’s march in Washington the day before. Now, he said he was in legal limbo as he awaited a visa from the consulate of Afghanistan, unable to return to the United States even with a green card and fearful of returning to Iran because of his activism about human rights issues there.

Speaking by phone from Dubai, Abdi said his current visa limits his stay in the United Arab Emirates to about a month. The possibility that green card holders and refugees could be barred from the United States did not occur to him when he left, he said.

“We didn’t believe it really, that it was going to be implemented,” he said. “Maybe we were taking the Trump administration less seriously than it is.”

Nada, Iraq

Nada, a Yazidi woman from Iraq, was on her way to be reunited with her husband, Khalas, who lives in Washington. The two of them, their last names not released, were granted Special Immigrant visas to the United States as part of a programme created to help thousands of Iraqis with ties to the United States, according to The New Yorker. Khalas, a former interpreter for the US Army, was granted his visa in April. Nada’s visa was approved about a week ago, and her passport on Thursday.

She was turned away, however, when she arrived at the gate for her flight in Dubai, wrote Kirk W. Johnson, founder and executive director of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. “The flight crew sent her back,” Khalas texted Johnson, “saying they got orders that no Iraqis with American visas should be boarded.”

Sarah Assali’s family, Syria

Assali, 25, a third-year medical student from Allentown, Pennsylvania, said six of her Syrian relatives had arrived in Philadelphia on a flight from Doha, Qatar, on Saturday morning, only to be detained and put on a flight back less than three hours later. The group had obtained family-based immigrant visas.

Assali said in a telephone interview that her six relatives — two uncles, two aunts and two teenage cousins, whom she did not name out of fear of endangering them or their case — are Christians who live in Damascus. Her father was on his way to pick up the relatives from the airport when he got a call from a customs official, she said, who said his family would not be leaving the airport. “They told him they’re not coming out, and to just go back.” Assali said. “And that it’s confidential and he can’t tell them why. They said it was an issue with their paperwork.”

Hameed Khalid Darweesh, Iraq

Darweesh, a husband and father of three who worked for the US military in Iraq for about a decade, was detained after arriving at Kennedy Airport on Friday night. He was granted a special immigrant visa on January 20. When he filed for it, he said he had been directly targeted because of his work for the United States as an interpreter, engineer and contractor.

Darweesh was released Saturday after lawyers filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court seeking freedom for him, as well as for another Iraqi detained at the airport.

Speaking to reporters and some protesters who gathered outside Kennedy Airport, Darweesh called the United States the greatest nation in the world. He said he was thankful for the people who had worked on his behalf. “This is the humanity, this is the soul of America,” he said. “This is what pushed me to move, leave my country and come here.”

Hamaseh Tayari, United Kingdom

Tayari, a resident of the United Kingdom who holds an Iranian passport, was unable to get back to Glasgow, Scotland, where she works as a veterinarian, from Costa Rica, where she was vacationing, because her flight travelled through New York, according to The Guardian. Tayari grew up in Italy and told the newspaper that she had never experienced anything like it. She said it might cost her a month’s salary to book a new flight home.

“I am destroyed,” she said. “I did not know that I could cry for so long. It feels like the beginning of the end. How this is possible? I am really afraid about what is going on.”

Tara Raghuveer, 24, protests President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslims, outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, January 28, 2017.Tara Raghuveer, 24, protests President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslims, outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, January 28, 2017.Unnamed family of six, Syria

The family members have been living in a refugee camp in Turkey, and were scheduled to fly to the United States yesterday, according to US Together, a refugee resettlement agency quoted in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The agency had found an apartment for them to rent with another family of Syrian refugees in Cleveland.

Those plans have been cancelled in the aftermath of Trump’s order.

“It was going to be really perfect,” Danielle Drake, a community relations manager for US Together, told the newspaper. “I can’t even imagine how the family feels right now.”

Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, Iran

Saravi, a young scientist in Iran, had been scheduled to travel to Boston, where he was awarded a fellowship at Harvard to study cardiovascular medicine, according to Thomas Michel, the professor who was to supervise his research. Then the visas for Saravi and his wife were suspended, Michel said.

“This outstanding young scientist has enormous potential to make contributions that will improve our understanding of heart disease, and he has already been thoroughly vetted,” Michel wrote to The New York Times. “This country and this city have a long history of providing research training to the best young scientists in the world, many of whom have stayed in the USA and made tremendous contributions in biomedicine and other disciplines.”

Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, Iraq

Alshawi, who worked for a US contractor in Iraq, was detained after he landed Friday at Kennedy Airport. He had flown from Stockholm to New York, en route to Texas to see his wife and son.

“He gave his package and his passport to an airport officer, and they didn’t talk to him, they just put him in a room,” his wife told The New York Times. “He told me that they forced him to get back to Iraq. He asked for his lawyer and to apply for an asylum case. And they told him: ‘You can’t do that. You need to go back to your country.’” — The New York Times

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