The Travel Ban: Still Doing Damage One Year Later

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Curt Goering is CVT executive director

“What can we do now?” This question was asked by a man I will call Fajer*, a former client at CVT Jordan, whose family escaped torture and death threats in his home country, Iraq. As we confront the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s insidious Travel Ban, Fajer and his family are still struggling to carve out a refugee life after the ban cancelled their resettlement to the United States. For refugee families who’ve gone through the years-long screening process, it’s not possible to simply select a different country and get on a different plane. One year later, Fajer still lives in a world of questions and uncertainty, finding that answers are as elusive as opportunities for those who were forced to flee violence in their home countries.

Reflecting on the past year, Fajer told us what happened. He and his wife are both highly educated and were enjoying a very happy and busy life with their four children, ages four up to 11 years old. Then, four years ago, they began to receive death threats because they are part of a targeted ethnic minority. Fajer was arrested and endured torture while he was held. After Fajer was released, a close family member was shot down. The family ran from their home; they left everything behind. When they arrived in Jordan, their only possessions were the clothes they were wearing.

In our work with torture survivors, this is the kind of story we hear every day: individuals targeted by regimes because of their religion or ethnicity, families persecuted because of their beliefs, communities decimated. Torture, disappearances, violence, threats. CVT clients have fled the worst of the worst, many of them with as many family members as are able to escape. The fact is that half of refugees are children.

And so, like many before them, Fajer and his family began their new lives as refugees in Jordan. Because of symptoms he had from the torture, Fajer found CVT Jordan. He and two of the children came for rehabilitative care and began to feel better and to rebuild their world. They felt that their lives were getting closer to normal.

As Fajer spoke, his hopes for his children’s future were clearly priorities: he described his young children, who are smart and talented and love everything from science to the arts. The family took all the necessary steps to be placed in the pipeline for resettlement, and when asked to choose either the U.S. or the U.K. as their future home, they selected the United States. They had relatives living in Massachusetts, a place where educational opportunities for the children were truly a dream that could come true.

The family went through all the required phases and screenings, meeting with the resettlement committee at UNHCR three times. The process took two years, but finally they were approved for resettlement in the U.S. They completed the cultural orientation classes and started their preparations to travel. All they needed was their travel itinerary for February 2017. Then at the end of January, the UN informed Fajer that they were not going to the U.S. They were not given any explanation for the change.

The U.S. Travel Ban was announced January 27, 2017.

Over the long year since the Travel Ban, Fajer told us the family still has not received an answer about what happened, even though they have called many times. They are repeatedly told by agencies that “we have nothing to do with it.” The ban is a severe setback for this family, now stranded in exile, their dreams torn apart for a future life in the U.S.

“How can the U.S. impose this ban on innocent people who are yearning to live in the land of freedom?” Fajer asked. To him, the United States’ history of welcoming immigrants and its Statue of Liberty were powerful symbols of refuge. “The U.S. was a beacon of human rights to us. This action contradicts the view we held of American values,” Fajer said.

Indeed, CVT’s clients, both refugees and asylum seekers, frequently mention that they previously thought of the United States as a place where respect for human rights was a core value. In particular, the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries and the right to live free from torture are the basic human principles on which many of CVT’s clients rely. With the Travel Ban and its successors, hateful nativist rhetoric, deeply anti-immigrant actions and other policies from President Trump in 2017, the United States’ image has suffered on the global stage, with the Pew Research Center finding by last summer that of polled countries, “a median of just 22% has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs.”

For Fajer and his family, the impacts have been catastrophic and deeply personal. They were affected psychologically by the abrupt change in plans and direction, and now they face uncertain conditions and lack of financial resources. They are barely able to pay their rent. As survivors of torture and war atrocities, stability is essential to recovery, so the sudden turnabout and reduced circumstances caused relapsed psychological status. And they are stuck. Fajer is very, very concerned about the children’s future, and because they had taken them out of school in order to travel, the ban disrupted their education as they could not immediately re-enroll.

For Fajer and his family, everything had to start over again. They cannot return home under fear of death, but they cannot stay in Jordan indefinitely either. The travel ban ended the only way for them to build a new life.

Fajer said he doesn’t understand why this is happening to them. “I lived all my 40 years peacefully in my home country. I worked as a civilian, had no connection to any conflict. I always lived co-existent with my neighbors. Why us?” he said.

“What can we do now?"

 

*Name has been changed for confidentiality and security. The name Fajer means Dawn of a New Day.

Funding for CVT’s work in Jordan is provided by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

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