Syrian, Sudanese refugees already suffering from Trump's travel ban

Syrian, Sudanese refugees already suffering from Trump's travel ban
The reinstatement of the so-called Muslim ban is shattering the hopes of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Sudan who were so close to resettling in the United States.
5 min read
30 June, 2017
Critics say banning refugees had no security foundations [AFP]
A month before Donald Trump assumed the US presidency, Mohammad Al-Haj Ali, a 28-year old Syrian with a second child on the way, was taking cultural sensitivity classes in Jordan to prepare to start a new life in Illinois.

The International Organization for Migration-run class ended in a graduation ceremony that Al-Haj Ali remembers well, standing next to his pregnant 25-year old wife, Samah Hamadi, and two-year-old son, Khaled, surrounded by about 20 other families.

“Ten to 15 days and you’ll go – get yourselves ready,” they were told.

Al-Haj Ali was interviewed five times in the Jordanian capital, Amman, about his family history – at times in sessions lasting more than 12 hours – over a two-year period. Sometimes months would go by with no news, but he thought the stress was worth it.

Assured their refugee life was coming to an end, he quit his job working with kids in Zaatari refugee camp, sold his furniture for 150 dinars ($212), bought five suitcases and packed them. His uncle in Rockford, Illinois, rented him an apartment and furnished it in anticipation.

Gradually good news for other families came – an Iraqi family gone, followed by a Syrian. His was one of the last still awaiting permission to go when news of the White House executive order banning travel from six Muslim nations sapped their hope.

Two months later, Samah gave birth to the couple’s second son, two months premature – a tragedy Al-Haji Ali still blames on Trump. The family waited in the hospital for a month as the baby struggled to survive in an incubator with partially formed lungs and an umbilical hernia.

They named him Laith, after Al-Haj Ali’s brother, who was killed by the Syrian regime. The baby’s brother, Khaled, had been named after their grandfather, who died in a regime prison.

The family says they’ve received no clarification of their status from the coordinating refugee agencies and feel stuck in limbo. Their five suitcases remain in storage.

As he waits in northern Jordan, mere miles from his hometown in war-ravaged Deraa in southern Syria, jobless in a mostly empty house, Al-Haj Ali is desperate to escape the region.

He dreams of a better life, proper medical treatment for his infant son, and of pursuing a doctorate in economics. But not in America.

“Maybe there will be a new law: Refugees aren’t allowed to study in universities, refugees aren’t allowed in certain hospitals, not allowed to go into New York or some other state,” he said, sitting in the family’s sparse apartment.

“The future there is not secure.”

Dozens of Sudanese activists living in Egypt as refugees, many of whom fled fundamentalist Islamic militias and were close to approval for resettlement in the United States, now face legal limbo

Darfur refugees in limbo 

It's a similar story for Sudanese genocide refugees awaiting re-settlement in the US, interviewed by AP.

Dozens of Sudanese activists living in Egypt as refugees, many of whom fled fundamentalist Islamic militias and were close to approval for resettlement in the United States, now face legal limbo after the Supreme Court partially reinstated President Donald Trump’s travel ban on six Muslim nations, including Sudan.

Many said they are not safe in Egypt because Sudanese agents operating in the country under tacit Egyptian approval regularly threaten them and their families, sometimes targeting them with violence.

Tayeb Ibrahim, who has worked to expose Sudanese government abuses in areas it controls in the country’s volatile South Kordofan province, was partially blinded after being attacked with acid by Sudanese government agents, and narrowly escaped being brought back to Sudan after being kidnapped in Egypt.

“I’m totally depressed. I was approved over a year ago for resettlement, just passed my medical exam last week and was hoping to see family living in Iowa. But instead I’ll be stuck here worried about my physical safety,” said 40-year-old Ibrahim, who like many Sudanese refugees has no travel documents and thus cannot leave Egypt.

Sudanese living in Egypt regularly complain of discrimination and harassment, while pro-democracy rights activists and opponents of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s regime say they face abuses by both Sudanese and Egyptian security forces.

Rights groups have in the past documented cases where pro-democracy activists have been targeted by Sudanese secret police with violence, including rape. Egypt has denied any involvement in such targeted abuse.

There are officially some 36,000 Sudanese with refugee status in Egypt, most former residents of Sudan’s Darfur region who fled government-sponsored Islamic and tribal Janjaweed militias in a separatist conflict that was front-page news a decade ago but has now been eclipsed by other regional crises in Syria and Iraq.

“It’s like having our own little Islamic State group in Sudan, sponsored by the government, who has been persecuting us for years,” said Awad, a 33-year-old Sudanese women’s rights activist who has lived in Cairo since 2012.

During that time, she said she has been the victim of burglaries and an attack by Sudanese men on a motorbike. Like others interviewed, she declined to give her last name out of fears for her safety.

Awad said she has been vetted for three years by US and UN officials, and had hoped to be approved for resettlement in Kansas or Minnesota, states with large Sudanese communities.

Sudan’s Darfur region has seen violent conflict since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died in the conflict and some 2.7 million have fled their homes.

The US Embassy in Cairo declined to comment on the cases, as did the UN’s International Organization for Migration, which manages the vetting process. The US State Department has said it would provide additional details on how the ban would affect migration “after consultation with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”

Meanwhile, rights groups, including US-based Human Rights Watch, say Washington should reevaluate its moves to lift sanctions on Sudan and insist certain criteria be met first, such as outlawing punishments like stoning, as well as dress code bans and official discrimination against women and girls.

Awad noted the irony of Trump’s travel ban: while it seeks to protect America against Islamic extremists, in the case of Sudanese in Egypt, it was punishing the victims, people still threatened by their government here.

“People have to understand, I fear for my life in this country,” she said.

“It’s horrible to be so close to freedom and suddenly told you have to stay for an unknown time.”