Omar al-Muqdad – a prominent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and former Syrian refugee – writes a bi-monthly blog for CMS titled, “Dispatches from the Global Crisis in Refugee Protection.” This series covers the Syrian Civil War, the experiences of Syria’s immense and far-flung refugee population, the global crisis in refugee protection, religious persecution, and US refugee and immigration policies. Mr. al-Muqdad’s work has been featured by the BBC, CNN, and in many other media outlets. Resettled in the United States in 2012, Mr. al-Muqdad became a US citizen in Spring 2018. CMS will be featuring this work in its weekly Migration Update and on its website.
President Donald Trump’s commitment to building walls instead of bridges has included banning the admission of people from specific countries, including Syria. The security concerns used to justify this policy have been debunked, particularly for refugees who are painstakingly selected and vetted over many months. In fact, the admissions ban reflects the Trump administration’s hostility to humanitarian, refugee, and family unity programs. The ban affects thousands of innocent people in desperate circumstances abroad, as well as US residents who find themselves indefinitely separated from their loved ones.
This is the case for 26-year-old Remi Hassoun, a Syrian refugee from the city of Idlib, who was resettled in Maryland in 2015 after undergoing an extreme vetting process that involved 15 months of waiting and interviews with US immigration and United Nations officers.
Remi is studying computer science at Howard Community College. He received his green card last year, but he cannot travel to see his mother and sisters, and cannot bring them to the United States either. “I can’t go there now because I hear that I may be sent back where I come from, and of course, I can’t bring my mother and siblings here because of the travel ban,” Remi told me.
Remi’s life in the United States had taken a sharp turn. He left Syria when he was a high school student. As the war forced him into exile, he found himself thinking about reshaping his plans and trying to establish a new home in the United States. However, his pain did not end when he reached the United States. Until he secures US citizenship, he cannot leave or otherwise see his family. He hopes that things may become easier as a US citizen, but even with his new status, he fears he will not be able to reunite with his mother and sisters.
“It wasn’t my decision to leave,” he said. “My family and I were forced into exile; the alternative was to die under heavy bombardment, where my neighborhood was devastated by the deliberate air raid by the Syrian regime and the Russians.” Like many others, he found himself under another pressure after he left his home: being separated from his family. “Being a refugee is a curse [that] will follow me wherever I go,” Remi said.
There is no good security rationale for denying admission to refugees who are trying to reunite with their spouses, parents, children, or other family members. The real threats to security are not refugees like Remi and their families, but the ways in which US policies like the admissions ban — which have been sustained by empty slogans and by spreading fear among US citizens — are causing pain and misery to human beings and separating loved ones. The admissions ban is an inhumane act from a country long defined as a beacon of hope and acceptance for the world’s most vulnerable people.