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'Nowhere to go' and 'nothing to go back to:' The aftermath of the U.S. travel ban

Edmonton man, Mikhael Tom says members of his family are now homeless and trapped in a Kenyan airport.
Refugees wait at the airport in Athens to board a special charter plane bound for France in the frames of the EU relocation program for refugees on November 3, 2016. (Louisa Gouliamaki/file photo/AFP/Getty Images)

Afraid to return to Somalia, unable to return to a refugee camp, and barred from flying to the United States – Mikhael Tom says members of his family are now homeless and trapped in a Kenyan airport. 

They are among the thousands of refugees, immigrants and travellers caught in the global chaos and confusion that has followed a new U.S. immigration policy. Friday's executive order by President Donald Trump closed American borders to nationals from seven predominantly- Muslim nations, including Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. Trump has also barred all refugees for 120 days and suspended the Syrian refugee program indefinitely. 

Accepted as refugees by the United States prior to the travel ban, Tom's Somali family members were en route to their new home when they were stopped from boarding their flight in Kenya. 

"They had received clearance. They were in a holding centre set up by the United States. They had taken all their medications and gone through all the programming that's required of refugees to gain entry," Tom said in an interview from Edmonton.

"[My wife's aunt] even has a boarding ticket in her hand as we speak. The aircraft that brought her from her camp to this airport is not going to take her back, so for her, there's literally nowhere to go. She has nothing to go back to."

There's a possibility that [they'll] never make it out of there.- Mikhael Tom

While returning to the refugee camp is not an option, Tom says returning to Somalia is a dangerous choice. 

"When you're granted access to a country like America and denied at the last minute, it makes you a target for those who did not get accepted to the United States. It puts [you] in a unsafe situation."

The future, Tom says, is bleak for those trapped in conditions like these. About his own family members, he says: "There's a possibility that [they'll] never make it out of there."

Living in Canada, Tom said he has the resources to help his stranded family and others like them and hopes the government can help in their rescue.

"I'm trying to see if there's a way for our Canadian government to provide immediate emergency assistance to these people. Canadians like myself, we have resources – places to stay, money, jobs – we have everything here available to support these refugees if they're brought over," Tom said. 
Demonstrators protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Jan. 29, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

"I know I'm not the only Canadian who is feeling this way."

While protests erupted in many American cities following the new policy, vocal groups of protesters also rallied in Canada. Hundreds gathered Monday at the U.S. consulates in Toronto and Ottawa, protesting the travel ban and urging action from the Canadian government. 

"Even Canadians who have no connection [to those affected,] they're seeing in their hearts that what is going on is wrong. They want to help these people who are stranded," Tom said.

Arguing that the travel ban is illegal and discriminatory, Tom also says the new policy will be ineffective in countering terrorism. 

"This is going to give an opportunity to extremist groups to take out their anger and say 'We have a right to do whatever it is we're doing because [Trump is] inflicting this kind of harm on Muslim people.' I'm not saying I believe in this whatsoever, but I know that there are groups out there that are going to feel empowered by this," Tom said. 

Wesley Wark, professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, echoed the same concerns on Sunday's program with Cross Country Checkup host, Duncan McCue.

[The travel ban] provides a kind of fuel for the Islamic State.- Wesley Wark

"I think [this point of view] would be backed by many people who have studied terrorism and what motivates people to join terrorist groups. [The travel ban] provides a kind of fuel for the Islamic State's and other groups' propaganda campaign, which is basically rooted in the argument that the United States is against the Muslim community," Wark said.

"There is much in the Trump executive order that will underline those propaganda claims, even though they are manifestly false."

While deeply troubled by Trump's policies south of the border, Tom, a Muslim-Canadian, says he sees no future in which Canada would enact a similar ban.

 "I have a huge amount of confidence in my country."

This article was prepared by Ilina Ghosh on Jan. 30, 2017.

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