Dadaab
Part of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where an estimated 300,000 Somalis live. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Somalis who waited up to 10 years to pass rigorous screening shocked by abrupt change in their prospects

By Jason Burke

Hundreds of Somali refugees in Kenya who were days from travelling to the US to start new lives under a longstanding resettlement programme have been told they cannot travel, after Donald Trump’s executive order banned migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months.

The refugees, who have all been rigorously screened by US and UN officials, have waited for between seven and 10 years for their resettlement to be approved and organised.

Some had already checked in for the flight to their new homes in the US when they were told they would not be allowed to board the plane. Others had travelled to Nairobi with children ready to leave.

“These are people who have packed their bags, emptied their bank accounts, sold all their goods and said their goodbyes. Then they hear they are not going to the US after all,” said one aid worker in Nairobi.

In all, up to 26,000 people who hoped to travel to the US have been hit by the new measure. The total includes those cleared for imminent travel, as well as those whose applications are under review.

Aden Abdi Ganey, a 58-year-old refugee scheduled to fly this week with his seven children to live in Arizona, described the executive order as “a disaster”.

There were emotional scenes at a transit camp in Nairobi run by the US government as families who were expecting to travel were told the bad news. .

Representatives from UN agencies in the Kenyan capital are scheduled to meet local government officials on Tuesday in an attempt to resolve the problem, and aid agencies are organising counselling for distraught families.

Approximately 3,000 refugees are scheduled to be resettled in the US from camps in northern Kenya this year, the majority from Dadaab, a sprawling tent city where an estimated 300,000 Somalis live.

There are now fears that even those cleared for a new life in the US may face a return to Somalia, a war-torn country where Islamist militants have launched attacks on a multinational military force trying to bring stability and international agencies have warned of famine.

Kenyan authorities have pledged to shut the Dadaab camp and send its inhabitants back to Somalia as soon as May, only weeks after the temporary ban imposed by Trump’s executive order expires.

“We are refugees, we cannot return back to our country, this host country of Kenya is pushing us to move out and the US president does not want us in his country. What can we do? Nothing. If he does not want Muslims, then we hope God will help us,” Ganey said.

Ganey has lived in Dadaab since civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, and applied for a place in the US refugee resettlement programme seven years ago. After a process of rigorous screening by UN and US officials, his clearance for immigration came through last October.

He had not heard from the resettlement officers who dealt with his case since Trump’s executive order.

Habiba Hassan Mohamed, 41, a mother of five children, one of whom is disabled, said she had started applying for resettlement in the US in 2009.

“I did all the interviews and screenings needed for refugees including security and health checking. I was told that I and my children will be going to Arizona, but now I have no hope because of Donald Trump’s order,” she said.

“I am very sorry about this. I am a victim. I fled from my home country. I lost my husband during the civil war in Somalia. I have done nothing wrong. I do not know why I and my children are subject to this punishment. It is shameful. I am appealing to Mr Trump to consider my situation and allow me to travel to the US.”

As many as 10,000 Somalis residing all over Africa were to be resettled in the US this year, according to the US State Department. The total was a slight increase on the previous year. Almost all are Muslim.

In Somalia, there was anger and confusion, with many unclear about the exact details of the new measure.

Mohamed Omar, a member of Somalia’s federal parliament and a UK citizen who frequently visits his mother and other close family members in Minnesota, said he was very worried.

“I have spoken to my mum as I heard that people travelling in were detained in US airports. She is very concerned and warned me not to travel. It is good to screen people and to do background checks, but I do not see a right to ban a whole race and to impose religious tests in this modern world.”

There are thought to be a dozen Somali parliamentarians with dual nationality – mostly Somali-European – and who have families in the US.

Nasra Shekh Buna, a Somali-Kenyan in the the Somali judiciary who has spent most of the year training in Wisconsin on a fellowship, said she could not return after a short break in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

“I have been following the news reports but I have never thought of being banned. I have sought for clarifications and I got to know from Turkish Airlines in Mogadishu that I am unable to travel as long as this order is in place.

“I do not know how this will help the innocent people of both countries. America has interests in Somalia and Somalia needs the US support. I think Mr Trump has never thought [about] the relations of our two countries.”

Sudan was also named in Trump’s order. On Sunday the Sudanese foreign ministry summoned the US chargé d’affaires in Khartoum to protest against the measure.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the head of the African Union commission, called for solidarity in an address to African leaders in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. “We are entering very turbulent times. The very country to which many of our people were taken as slaves during the transatlantic slave trade has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.

“What do we do about this? Indeed, this is one of the greatest challenges to our unity and solidarity,” she said.

Source: The Guardian

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