29 January 2017

Africa: Chaos, Anxiety As Trump's Travel Moratorium Takes Effect

Photo: Gage Skidmore /Wikipedia
Donald Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (file photo).

Scores detained at US airports Green card holders affected Iran bans US citizens in retaliation

As US President Donald Trump's order targeting citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries reverberated across the world on Saturday, it became increasingly clear that the controversial measure he had promised during his presidential campaign was casting a wider net than even his opponents had feared.

Confusion and concern among immigrant mounted throughout Saturday as travelers from the Middle East were detained at US airports or sent home.

Trump's policy of barring citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has caused outrage around the world.

The Republican billionaire signed an executive order on Friday that suspended travel visas for anyone from those seven "countries of particular concern" from entering the US for at least 90 days.

But as the day progressed, administration officials confirmed that the sweeping order also targeted US legal residents from the named countries -- green-card holders -- who happened to be abroad when it was signed. Also subject to being barred entry into the United States are dual nationals, or people born in one of the seven countries who hold passports even from US allies such as the United Kingdom.

Within hours of President Trump's executive order limiting immigration from Muslim countries, green card and visa holders were already being blocked from getting on flights to the US.

The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee said people who had already landed were being sequestered at airports and told they have to return to their point of origin.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a directive at 4:30 p.m on Saturday ordering the Customs and Border Protection to enforce the executive order.

"For those already here, we won't actually know until the flights back to these areas begin departing," Abed Ayoub of the ADC said about the crisis.

"We're hearing from a lot of people concerned about family members, friends, classmates. We're hearing about a lot of folks asking 'should I cancel my plans,' and from folks who had to cancel events because of this."

Customs officials said the number of people who arrived here and were turned back was not immediately available Friday night.

"It takes time to collect all the numbers," a spokesman said.

"It will be a decision from the highest levels of The Department of Homeland Security to decide if and when the data may be available."

Iran in a swift reaction invoked the principle of reciprocity by blocking American citizens from entering the country in "retaliation" for Trump's ban on travellers from the seven majority-Muslim countries.

Tehran's foreign ministry said in a statement it would enforce its own ban "until the offensive US limitations against Iranian nationals are lifted".

"While respecting the American people and distinguishing between them and the hostile policies of the U.S. government, Iran will implement the principle of reciprocity until the offensive U.S. limitations against Iranian nationals are lifted," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The US ban is an "affront against the Muslim world", the statement said, adding it would be a "great gift to extremists".

Earlier on yesterday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani issued a thinly-veiled criticism of the US President.

Without naming Mr Trump, he said now was not the time to build barriers between nations.

"Today is not the time to erect walls between nations. They have forgotten that the Berlin wall fell years ago," he said in a speech.

Foreign airlines are already barring Iranians from traveling to the United States following President Trump's temporary order barring visas for the seven Muslim countries, travel agents in Tehran said Saturday.

Two agencies told AFP they had been instructed by Etihad Airways, Emirates and Turkish Airlines not to sell US tickets or allow Iranians holding American visas to board US-bound flights.

With more than a million Iranians living in the United States, many families are concerned about the implications of Trump's visa ban.

An Iranian studying in California who was visiting home said Saturday that she could not return because her ticket had been cancelled under the new restrictions.

"I had a ticket for Turkish Airlines on February 4, but it has been cancelled," the girl who did not wish to be identified told AFP.

"I've informed the university officials by mail and they were surprised. They are going to send me a letter so I can try fly from Europe."

On Thursday, one of Iran's most popular actresses said she would boycott next month's Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at the US ban.

"Trump's visa ban for Iranians is racist. Whether this will include a cultural event or not, I won't attend the #AcademyAwards 2017," tweeted Taraneh Alidoosti, who stars in the Oscar-nominated "The Salesman."

A middle-of-the-night lawsuit filed on behalf of two Iraqi men challenged Trump's executive action, which was signed Friday and initially cast as applying to refugees and migrants.

The virtually unprecedented measures triggered harsh reactions from not only Democrats and others who typically advocate for immigrants but also key sectors of the US business community. Leading technology companies recalled scores of overseas employees and sharply criticized the president. Legal experts forecast a wave of litigation over the order, calling it unconstitutional. Canada announced it would accept asylum applications from US green-card holders.

Yet Trump, who centered his campaign in part on his vow to crack down on illegal immigrants and impose what became known as his "Muslim ban," was unbowed. As White House officials insisted that the measure strengthens national security, the president stood squarely behind it.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has condemned the ban and the International Organisation for Migration called on the new President's administration to continue offering asylum to people fleeing war and persecution.

"The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the US resettlement program is one of the most important in the world," the two agencies said in a joint statement.

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