U.S. travel ban makes Iraqi-Canadians feel like 'a different species,' Calgary family says

​A Calgary family's travel plans to the U.S. are in doubt after President Donald Trump's executive order barring citizens from seven countries from entry.

Calgary family with relatives, business ties and vacation plans in the United States now face uncertain future

Khalid al-Zubidi and Athba Samarai immigrated to Canada from Iraq in 2014 and regularly travel to the U.S. to visit family and conduct business. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

​Athba Samarai and Khalid al-Zubidi came to Canada as immigrants in 2014 and have travelled to the U.S. regularly since their arrival.

She works as an accountant and routinely conducts business south of the border. He has family living in the U.S. Their daughters, Maryam, 10, and Dima, 2, wanted to go to Disneyland for Christmas.

But now, all those plans are in doubt after President Donald Trump issued a sudden executive order barring citizens of seven countries from entering the U.S. — including Iraq, where the couple is originally from.

"It was very humiliating and it was very outrageous and it was not an act of a First World country," Samarai said during a rally in Calgary on Sunday in protest of the U.S. decision.

"And I cannot explain how angry, how disappointed, how afraid I am. Not only for myself — it's for my family."

Samarai last travelled to the U.S. in October and said it was already a difficult process.

"They kind of put you under pressure — ask you very personal questions — and that was before the ban," she said.

"It's kind of like, now, we're a different species altogether."

Khalid al-Zubidi, Athba Samarai, Maryam Samarai, 10, and Dima Samarai, 2 were among about two dozen people who gathered in Calgary to protest the U.S. president's executive order barring entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Confusion reigned after Trump signed the executive order, which said people from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya would be barred entry to the U.S. for three months.

It was unclear for some time how that would affect Canadian citizens or permanent residents who were born in those countries or those who hold dual citizenship.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen finally said on Sunday that the White House has offered assurances that permanent residents of Canada can enter the U.S. if they have a valid Canadian permanent resident card and passport from one of the seven affected countries.

Samarai and al-Zubidi said they hold Iraqi passports and have used U.S. travel visas with no problems for years.

She was planning to travel to Dubai — via Seattle — for her sister's wedding in February and he was planning to visit his father and brother, who live in the United States, but now they aren't sure if they will risk making the trips.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Dr. Ameer Farooq, a member of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, told CBC Calgary News at 6 he planned to study for a master's degree in the U.S. but now may not.  

"The thing that really bothers me about all this is that Trump has normalized hatred," he said. "And I think once you've got that normalization from the head of your country, that certainly sends a message to people and makes people like us a target."

Dr. Ameer Farooq was planning to study for a master's degree in the U.S. but said he may reconsider. (CBC )

Travel confusion, chaos

Chaos persisted throughout the weekend at American airports, with travellers detained, relatives desperately searching for loved ones, and protesters gathering to condemn the executive order.

Locally, the University of Calgary has set up hotlines for students and faculty to help sort out how the restrictions will affect their personal and academic travels.

"Our university is based on diversity, inclusivity, and the free exchange of scholarship and ideas across international boundaries," U of C president Elizabeth Cannon said in a statement.

"These values are the foundation of great universities worldwide. Any restriction that prevents students and scholars from going abroad for study, teaching or research is deeply concerning, and has a profound impact not only on scholarship but also on family relationships of our university community members."

About two dozen people attended the rally in downtown Calgary on Sunday, many of them chanting, "No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here."

Organizer and community activist Grant Neufeld described the U.S. president's executive order as "horrifying."

"We're seeing the rise of fascism, right effectively here on our own turf," Neufeld said. "We share this land with the United States and that's deeply troubling."

​Samarai and al-Zubidi said they are especially worried for their relatives in the U.S., who arrived there as refugees from Iraq in 2008, and have described a growing sense of feeling unwelcome in their new country.

"I'm so happy to be here instead of anywhere else," al-Zubidi said of living in Calgary.

"Canada welcomes you."

With files from Kate Adach