By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
It is so important to understand the impact of President Trump’s travel ban.
When the first Executive Order from the US President came into force in January, banning entry to the United States of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, a research team led by Amnesty’s Crisis Response Senior Advisor Rawya Rageh (pictured above) was immediately sent to locations along the Canada-US border to investigate the impact of such a clearly discriminatory order.
The story of Fatima* is not uncommon, and illustrates why Amnesty International must be there to defend the rights of individuals affected by the ban, and needs your help to campaign against the travel ban.
“These decisions made by President Trump have left us in a state of constant fear. We feel like suspects even though we’ve never done anything wrong in our lives.”
– Fatima, who is separated from her two sons in Yemen
Fatima, originally from Yemen and based in the United States, is separated from her two sons, Yahia, 19, and Maher, 20, who are stuck in Djibouti after running for their lives from gunfire and conflict in Yemen. Her sons don’t know anyone in Djibouti, but going there was their only hope of being reunited with their mother, Fatima, who is thousands of miles away.
Fatima has a green card to work in the United States, and applied in 2014 for her sons to escape war-torn Yemen and join her in the US. Two years later, the boys were finally given an interview in Djibouti, as the US embassy in Yemen had closed. So at great personal expense they travelled there in the hope of being granted a visa.
But Trump’s Executive Order has put a stop to all that. With Yemen being one of the six countries targeted, Yahia and Maher’s visa application appears to be frozen. They are now stuck in Djibouti where they cannot find work and don’t know anyone. Their mother is running up huge debts paying for them to have somewhere to live and helping them survive on one meal a day.
The situation for the family is desperate, their mother tells Rawya they are “devastated,” but it is our job to find cases like these and to tell the world about them, so that together we can put pressure on the US to drop the travel ban. While the travel ban has been temporarily stayed, most recently by a judge in Hawaii, US Immigration Officials around the world are still operating under a cloud of uncertainity.
The impacts of the travel ban are also being felt here at home in Canada. Following the signing of the Executive Order, Amnesty International called on Canada to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), arguing the United States (US) was not a safe country for asylum seekers.
Canadians were alarmed at the discriminatory nature of the travel ban and 25,000 have signed our action calling on Canada to suspend the Safe Third Country agreement with the United States
With a limited number of exceptions, the Safe Third Country Agreement prevents refugee claimants who cross into Canada from the US at official border crossings from making refugee claims in Canada because the US is considered a “safe country”. Following the Executive Order in January, media reports had suggested a growing number of refugee claimants were crossing irregularly from the USA to Canada. During the week of February 20th, Amnesty International deployed researchers to conduct interviews with refugee claimants who have recently arrived in Canada from the US, having irregularly crossed the border into Canada.
Widespread and unjustified immigration detention continues to be a very serious concern, well-founded asylum claims are arbitrarily rejected, and a significant increase in immigration raids are just a few of the observations from the interviews with the refugee claimants. Fatima’s story, based on interviews in Manitoba, reinforce Amnesty’s concern that policies being proposed and implemented in the US are endangering the rights of asylum seekers.
*The names of Fatima and her sons have been changed to protect the individuals concerned.