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Refugees: A World Away From Loved Ones, Anxious and in Limbo

  • Associated Press

Immigrant Rana Elshekly, 36, left, talks to Qadria Naji, 26, at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico., Jan. 30, 2017. Elshekly, a refugee from Iraq, came to Albuquerque with her two young boys in October and expected her husband, Hikmat Ahmed, also of Iraq, to join them soon but President Donald Trump's travel ban has left Ahmed in limbo while waiting in Turkey.

President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees from certain countries has brought stress, desperation, worry and confusion to a number of families in the United States and abroad.

Trump's order temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. Many refugees in the U.S. had expected to reunite with relatives any day, but now their plans are on hold.

5-year-old girl: far from mom and dad

Nagi Algahaim, a U.S. citizen who runs a gas station in Detroit, said he's effectively stuck in Malaysia with his wife, a native of Yemen. Their 5-year-old daughter is at home with relatives in Detroit but the mother can't travel there.

Algahaim, 33, said he and Kokab Algazali, 28, have been in Malaysia since December, seeking immigration documents to qualify her for a green card in the United States.

Algahaim said Malaysia Airlines told them that while he can fly to the U.S., his wife cannot.

But he's not leaving Kuala Lumpur without her.

"She's been crying every day. It's heartbreaking," he said Tuesday.

Their daughter, who has health problems, hasn't seen her mother since she was 8 months old.

"As an American, I'm disgusted," Algahaim said. "I thought Trump was going to bring up America, not twist it around with fear and racism."

Everything was set

Everything was set for the Syrian refugees to fly to the U.S.

A "processing error" that for months kept Baraa Haj Khalaf, her husband and baby daughter from joining her parents and two siblings in the U.S. had at last been taken care of. They were told to be at the Istanbul airport Monday for their flight to the U.S. - and a new life near Chicago.

So confident were they that they were on their way to America after fleeing Aleppo, Syria in 2013, Baraa and her husband sold or gave away practically all of their belongings.

In suburban Chicago, her 46-year-old father, Khaled Haj Khalaf, could hardly contain his excitement. "We were very happy," he said through an interpreter Tuesday. "This is the land of freedom, the land of democracy."

Even some Chicago mothers had volunteered to collect furniture, food, clothing and toys for the baby at their future apartment. Then came President Donald Trump's executive order.

Now all the refugees' plans and hopes are "in limbo," said Melineh Kano, executive director of a group called RefugeeOne, which is providing support for the volunteers.

A family separated

Abdalla Munye and his wife resettled in Georgia weeks ago but their 20-year-old daughter wasn't able to join them. Her flight was scheduled to arrive this week. Now her trip is on hold.

Munye said his family stayed in refugee camps after fleeing the violence of Somalia, and his wife, Habiba Mohamed, said she watched her 11-year-old daughter be raped and killed.

They are concerned about their older daughter, Batula, who remains in a refugee camp in Kenya.

"Now that we are here and we have left her behind, we are in a lot of distress and worry," Munye, 44, said through a translator. "The only thing I can request from the American government is to help me be reunited with my daughter."

The couple held out hope that first lady Melania Trump, herself an immigrant from Slovenia, might be able to persuade the president to reverse course.

"She's a parent and she knows the love that a parent has for their child and I would like her to do her best to convince the president to change his mind," Munye said.

A daughter who has never met her father

Somali refugee Nimo Hashi bought couches and a new kitchen table for her Salt Lake City apartment in anticipation of reuniting Friday with her husband for the first time in nearly three years.

Somali refugee Nimo Hashi holds a photo of her husband Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Hashi bought a new kitchen table and couches for her Salt Lake City apartment in joyful anticipation of reuniting Friday with her husband for the first time in nearly three years. But he won't be arriving as planned to see her and the 2-year-old daughter he's never met. He is among hundreds of people stuck in limbo after President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banned refugees and nearly all travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia.
Somali refugee Nimo Hashi holds a photo of her husband Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Hashi bought a new kitchen table and couches for her Salt Lake City apartment in joyful anticipation of reuniting Friday with her husband for the first time in nearly three years. But he won't be arriving as planned to see her and the 2-year-old daughter he's never met. He is among hundreds of people stuck in limbo after President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banned refugees and nearly all travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia.


Hashi said she last saw him when she was two months pregnant with their daughter, Taslim. Her husband has never seen his daughter. After Trump's order, it's not clear when the father and daughter will meet.

The couple met in Ethiopia after both fled Somalia amid the civil war. Her refugee case had already been approved, so officials told her to go ahead to the U.S. where she could apply for her husband to join her.

"I was so happy and joyous but that dream is shattered," Hashi said through a translator. "This is not right just singling out people from Muslim countries, being singled out based on religion."

Stressed out

Iraqi refugee Rana Elshekly expected to see her husband soon but his resettlement was put on hold. Now he is in limbo in Turkey.

"Every time we talk it sounds like we are arguing because we don't know what to do," Elshekly said through an interpreter. "He's even trying to get me to come back to Turkey so we can at least all be together."

Elshekly, 36, resettled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in October with her two young boys, 9-year-old Dair and 3-year-old Laith.

Her husband, Hikmat Ahmed, 42, stayed behind after officials suggested that she and the children come alone to the United State to get out of the region faster.

When she thinks about returning to the war-torn region, she remembers her 20-year-old pregnant sister who was recently killed in a bombing at a market in Iraq.

"I start thinking of my boys, and I have to stay because of them," she said.

No one showed up for dinner

The Somali community in Providence, Rhode Island, prepared traditional home-cooked meals - including goat meat, vegetables and the crepe-like bread known as canjeero - and furnished an apartment for three brothers who were supposed to arrive Monday night. They never made it.

The eldest brother fled his war-torn homeland in the 1990s and had been waiting to be resettled since 2000, when he registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency, said Baha Sadr of refugee resettlement group Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island.

"For the past 16 years, most of his life, he was just waiting to get approval," Sadr said. "If anybody's in waiting for 16 years, how much more extreme vetting can they get?"

From Afghanistan with worries

Haidary Mohammad, 27, is celebrating little more than a week of being in the U.S., just barely settled into an apartment in Jacksonville, Florida, after years of working for the U.S. military as a translator in Afghanistan.

Haidary was able to move with his wife. But his father, mother and sisters and brothers remain in Afghanistan. He hopes they'll be able to make it to the U.S. one day - like he did. But now there's much to be uncertain about.

"I've been through a lot of firefights and ambushes and stuff like that in Afghanistan," he said, adding he applied two years ago to be resettled as a refugee, fearing for his life from the Taliban.

"The Taliban look for the guys who work with Americans, and I was one of the guys," he told The Associated Press. Now he doesn't know what will happen with two friends who are helping U.S. forces and also want to come over.

"There's two friends of mine still working in the north of Afghanistan with the Special Forces," he said. "Their paperwork is nearly done, one already got his visa, and they're still hoping to come."

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