‘We are considered the danger behind every bad thing that happens’: 6 Syrians ensnared in Trump’s executive order

American President Donald Trump signed a far-reaching executive order on Friday suspending all refugee entry to the United States for four months and barring citizens of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entry for a period of three months.

Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely.

Chaos ensued, including mass protests, legal challenges and the detention of dozens of inbound refugees, residents and travelers originating from the seven countries included in the order who ended up stuck at borders and airports across the United States.

Legal permanent residents were among those detained, prompting Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to clarify on Sunday that he deemed “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.” Nationals of the seven Muslim-majority countries who have green cards must request a waiver to re-enter the US.

For Syrian refugees in particular, their status is clear: Even those cleared for resettlement in the United States, some after years of vetting and interviews, are now rejected.

Others already in the United States, with green cards or without, are afraid and unsure of what the executive order will mean. Families are torn apart—some already resettled in the United States, others now trapped abroad.

 Hundreds protested Trump’s executive order at JFK airport in New York City on Sunday. Photo courtesy of ACLU.

Several members of Syria Direct’s staff based in Amman were going through the process of applying for resettlement to the United States when Trump’s executive order went into effect. One was interviewed for this piece, while others we include are friends and family members. Their names are Waseem, Ghardinia, Noureddin, Moutasem, Yusef and Hanan. In their words, this is what Trump’s executive order means for them.

Waseem Aleks, a 24-year-old Circassian Muslim from Syria’s southern Quneitra province. He fled to Jordan in 2012 after his town was bombed. Waseem was scheduled to fly to the United States in February.

I got permission to travel, after seven months of checks, and the embassy told us that we would be leaving in February. My family and I were just waiting for the tickets.

We had sold some of our furniture that we could do without for a little while, as the travel date approached: the living room couches and bedroom sets. I turned down job offers so I wouldn’t be bound to a contract before traveling.

Now, we are just confused. We don’t know what to do. I can’t describe how I’m feeling, just that it was horrible to get this news. I was hoping to complete my secondary studies in America. Trump’s decision doesn’t make sense. It is completely bigoted. I didn’t think there was bigotry that could be used against forcibly displaced people to break and degrade them even more.

My brother already lives in America, in Virginia. He is a doctor, and was going to sponsor us. Trump’s decision shattered all of my hopes.

We have no other options. The United Nations, its High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other human rights organizations will bear the burden. We will struggle with our circumstances until a political solution is cobbled together and we return to our country.

**

Ghardinia Ashour is from Moadamiyet a-Sham, a southwest suburb of Damascus. She fled with her family in late 2012 because of the war and Syrian regime bombardment of her town. Ghardinia works for Syria Direct as an English-to-Arabic translator.

My brother and his family were resettled in California in mid-2016 after a year-long vetting process. In October 2016, my mother and I started the process to be resettled in the US to join my brother.

Now, Trump’s decision bans me from seeing my brother, my niece and nephew. I can’t imagine that there could be such a big gap between a people and its leader. All the American people I have met are good.

You know, they’re exposing us to new suffering, to be shattered, in every country in this world. We will die silently. Nobody really cares.

I dreamed of going to the United States, to have a full command of English, to become a great translator of love and poetry. To try not to focus on the war.

He [Trump] considers me a terrorist. And Islam…what’s wrong with Islam? God knows I’ve loved all the Americans I met through my job. Why are they dividing us? In the name of God, who is choosing these people to lead and think of walls?

 Image courtesy of Juan Zero and Creative Memory.

My nephew in California is four years old. Whenever I talk to him, he tells me: ‘I will ask the plane to come back for you.’ He has to ask Trump now.

I can’t see my sister in Syria. I don’t know for how long. I can’t see my brother in the United States. I can’t see my uncle in Lebanon, with whom I spent every minute of my childhood.

I am Muslim and I am Syrian. These are words I am proud of, lovely words. But there is a kind of deep suffering within us, harder than the bombing and the killing. We are considered the danger behind every bad thing that happens. We don’t belong anywhere.

**

Noureddin, 21 years old, is from Syria’s southern Daraa province. He fled to Jordan with his family in 2013 because of deteriorating living conditions and a lack of security. He was scheduled to travel to the US in February, two years after beginning the resettlement process.

My feelings are indescribable. They are so ugly, because Trump sees us as terrorists, as bad people who will bring destruction to his country. We aren’t like that at all. Anybody who leaves their country only asks for peace and security, no more. They wouldn’t harm a country that took them in and helped them in their time of need, be it Jordan, the United States, or anywhere in the world.

They [the UNHCR and other agencies involved in resettlement] study the security file of every individual since they were in Syria through their stay in Jordan before accepting them. So why this fear of us?

Of course, I’m against this decision. It targets Muslim refugees specifically. It shows bigotry that the president of the greatest country in the world shouldn’t have within him. This doesn’t bode well for the countries of Europe, and will impact the countries of the Middle East. Ever since Trump became president, I wasn’t optimistic about him at all.

We haven’t thought about other countries to go to yet. We still don’t know what to do. We’re talking to our relatives and friends in America, asking how refugees in the US are treated, wondering if they know something about [our situation]. Maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump’s speech is just words for the media, because his decision is not logical at all.

**

Moutasem, 33 years old, is a married father of two from Homs province. He fled from Syria to Jordan with his family in March 2013. He applied for resettlement three years later and travelled to the US state of Ohio in December 2016, after a nine-month vetting process.

I left Jordan through the UNHCR. I left my 63-year-old father behind in Jordan, in the hopes of bringing him over later, once I arrived in the United States. After I arrived, I submitted a request for family reunification.

But President Trump’s latest executive order hit me with a shock I didn’t expect. It means that I can’t bring over my father as I had hoped, except for after what could be a very long time.

I blame myself for agreeing to leave without him, but I didn’t expect this unfair decision.

Now, I am afraid of what the US president will decide next regarding refugees. I came to America because it is a land of opportunity. I thought that I could improve the situation of my family, and have a more secure life than I did in Jordan.

The president has crushed my hopes and my main goal, to reunite with my father. I don’t know what my fate will be in America in the coming days.

**

Yusef, 38 years old, is a married father of one. He immigrated to California from Syria more than seven years ago. He is a legal permanent resident with a green card. He spoke to Syria Direct from Lebanon, where he is travelling.

One week ago, I left the US to visit Lebanon. I had heard Trump’s statements about refugees, but didn’t know the decision could affect residents. I have a green card, and have been in the US for more than seven years.

[Ed.: The concerns expressed by Yusef and others already in the US reflect the chaos of the early implementation of President Trump’s executive order. After the order was signed on Friday, scores of refugees and others were reportedly detained at airports and borders, including some returning legal residents with green cards. On Sunday, the Trump administration clarified that green card holders from the seven countries included in the executive order would not be affected.]

After I found out the executive order went into effect, I was frustrated. My friends in California started calling me, telling me what I should do with this unexpected disaster.

I am settled in America. I feel secure in my life there. I left my home and my work to go on vacation. I didn’t think that I could have to stay in Lebanon for months before being able to return to my family.

**

Hanan, 22 years old, is a biology student at the College of Alameda in California. She was resettled in the United States in March 2015 with her family, two years after fleeing to Jordan from Damascus. Hanan has a green card and was planning to travel to Turkey to marry her fiancé before the executive order was signed.

If I leave America, I might not be able to come back. I have a green card, but I am afraid.

I am from al-Midan [a neighborhood just south of the old city of Damascus]. I lived in a big, beautiful house. After I turned 18, I enrolled in university to study law, but my father was afraid that I could be detained and refused to let me go, saying ‘I’ll keep my daughter under my wing.’ We fled to Jordan in 2013.

Life in Jordan was hard. My father was not able to work. Rent was expensive, and the aid we received wasn’t enough. After a lot of effort, my father registered me at the Arab Community College in Amman. I studied dentistry for two years.

The UNHCR called us [in 2014] and told us we had been accepted for resettlement. After approximately a year of vetting, we came to America in March, 2015. Here, we began our lives. I felt as though I had been reborn. Paradise.

Life was hard at first. Culture shock really hit me. Later, when things evened out, I went to an English center with my mother and we studied there. I registered at college before I had even been in the US for a year. Life got much better.

My father works as a driver. He takes special-needs students to school in the morning. After that, he works as an Uber driver. I work part time at a dentist’s office in Oakland.

I got engaged to my fiancé Anas, in September 2015, on Skype. [Ed.: Hanan knew Anas before she fled Damascus.] He left Syria for Turkey at the beginning of 2016. He left Syria to meet me. He is waiting in Turkey for me to come to him. I received a green card in October 2016.

I was getting my things together to go visit him in February, to get married and then return, but now we don’t know anything. I won’t travel. I’m scared, trapped in the country. My fiancé is telling me to wait, saying that he is afraid for me.

I am afraid of leaving and not being able to return. I would lose my college and everything that I have built until now. I would go back to zero. I am waiting for things to calm down a little, but I am prepared to leave the country to not lose my fiancé.

When you find love, you can’t throw it away and keep on walking. I know that studying and working in America is everyone’s dream, but I would throw away the whole world for us to be together.

Trump’s order doesn’t impact our relationship. On the contrary, we are more determined to stay together.

I love America a lot. I love the country, the people, my American friends. All of them are standing with me, crying for us as well. I love the memories I have with the people who helped us when we first came. They are still standing by us.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Ghardinia Ashour

Ghardinia Ashour is from Moadamiyat a-Sham neighborhood in Outer Damascus. She graduated from Damascus University with a degree in translation. Ghardinia moved from Syria to Lebanon in 2012 and then to Jordan in 2013. She worked as an English teacher in Moadamiyat a-Sham before leaving Syria.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.