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'Just saying that this is not the Kiwi way is not enough'

Friday 3rd February 2017

On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States. We spoke to those affected by this racist new rule.

Iranian sound artist Mo H. Zareei, 31 lived in the US for two years before coming to New Zealand. Trump's ban on Iranians entering the country means he can't return.

Photo: supplied

 

"Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2011," President Trump says in his executive order. But this vague claim leaves one begging the question - how many people constitute "numerous"? 

The order has halted the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, indefinitely banned Syrian refugees, and suspended all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, sparking protests and confusion around the globe. 

Those with dual citizenship were originally told they were subject to the ban, but this was later clarified in a statement issued by US Customs and Border Patrol, as meaning people would be treated "according to the travel document they present."  

The order has been widely criticised by many - including acting US Attorney general Sally Yates, who questioned whether it was legal. She was sacked by Trump just hours later. 

In an op-ed for Vox, former Homeland Security lawyer David Martin said the order was "a priceless recruiting tool for ISIS and similar movements, because it so easily fits their narrative that the United States is the enemy of all Muslims.

Protesters rally against Trump's seven-country ban at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia

Photo: AFP

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Iranian sound artist Mo H. Zareei, 31, moved to the US six years ago. He lived there for two years, before moving to New Zealand in 2012.

He speaks with an American accent, studied at American art schools and has close American friends. But he can’t visit the country because of an executive order, signed by President Donald Trump.

Trump calls the order "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States."

Mo calls it “offensive.”

“When you’re from that part of the world you know you are gonna face some bullshit - there are a lot of ignorant people out there,” he says.

To combat this, Mo made an effort since leaving Iran to excel at everything he did “as a way to make routine discrimination not stand out”. US sanctions on Iran meant he did a four-year degree in two years, before heading to New Zealand to complete his PhD. He is now a lecturer at Victoria University.

Mo says the system was already discriminatory - with extreme vetting of Iranians in order to get visas for many countries. Before Trump’s ban, if Mo wanted to travel to the US, he first needed to fly to Auckland for an interview at the consulate. But this blanket ban by Trump is something else, he says.

“It makes me feel helpless. There’s no way that I can get out of it, because I had no say in where I was born.

“This needs to stop. People need to stand up. Just saying that this is not the Kiwi way is not enough.”

But Mo says the ban has had a far worse impact on this Iranian friends in the US. “While this is a very strange thing to deal with for me, many of my great friends are in far worse situations ... They have built a life [in the US].

"Now they cannot get out of the US borders to attend weddings or funerals of their loved ones. If they do, they won’t be allowed back in, to where they have built a life, to where they work, study, and live. And god I feel for them. These are dark times.”

***

Fadumo Ahmed, in her 50s, is the women’s coordinator of the National Refugee Network. Fleeing a bloody civil war in Somalia, which began after the ousting of a dictator in 1991, she came to New Zealand as a refugee in 2000. She is a wife and a mother of six, and also chairs the New Zealand Ethnic Women’s Trust. 

Fadumo says Trump's ban on people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and her own country of birth is not fair on those who fled war as refugees. “Trump should have a better plan to prevent terrorist attacks than to attack innocent refugees with these bans. It’s racist. The whole world is watching Trump with fear and disbelief. There has to be religious freedom. 

"All Muslim people are not bad," she says. "I believe terrorists don’t have any religion - they are just evil. They are not real Muslims, they are bad. What Trump is saying - that all Muslim people are not safe - it’s not true.”  

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Mona Yahy, 44, came to New Zealand as a refugee from Syria about two years ago. She says life for Syrian people was tough enough (more than 400,000 people are estimated to have died in Syria since 2011, and 4.8 million have fled the country) before Trump declared that admitting refugees from the war-ravaged country was “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” in the executive order he claims aims to protect the country from foreign terrorists.

“We are very sad, for all Syrian people, it’s not good for anyone. Every country we go to, they close their borders. Now this. We are very sad.”

Mona says her uncle, whose daughter lives in the US, is directly affected by the ban. “He went to stay with her in America, but then he was told he couldn’t stay. He could not go back to Syria, he could not go to Turkey, so he went to Canada.”

When Mona, her husband and their three children left Syria, they were told they would go to the US. But this changed, and they were later told they would be sent to New Zealand instead.

She says she’s happy to be here, living in Lower Hutt, though it’s a long way from home. “I would like to go back to my country when it is safe.”   

Syrian children at an unofficial refugee camp in the village of Deir Zannoun in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.

Photo: AFP

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“It’s appalling. It’s an ill-thought-out decision that’s not based on any facts or principle,” says a Libyan man living in New Zealand. He didn't want to be named because he was concerned it would affect his business. 

“Trump should focus on his own backyard - their social issues, poverty, unemployment, education and healthcare. It’s sad. He is sending a clear message to the Muslim world, saying ‘hey, this is what America thinks of you’ and there are vulnerable people who don’t understand that Trump doesn’t speak for all people in America with his hatred.”

The man says he thought Trump might have made a good president at first. “I thought ‘he’s not going to build a wall, he’s not going to ban Muslims.’ But now I think he needs to be fired.”

“I wanted to take my wife to New York for Christmas this year. Now it might not happen.” 

 



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Susan Strongman is an Auckland-based journalist at The Wireless. She is interested in social issues, human rights and people, but likes to spend her spare time with her cats.
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