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Canadians impacted by Trump's travel ban speak out

Athba Samarai is seen in this undated handout photo. Athba Samarai is an Iraq-born Canadian permanent resident who fears she will be detained if she attempts to cross the border into the U.S.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Photo courtesy Athba Samarai
January 31, 2017 - 9:30 AM

VANCOUVER - The only reason Athba Samarai and her husband moved thousands of kilometres from their homes in Iraq, she says, was so their children could grow up happily and safely in Canada.

But this week, the 35-year-old financial manager found herself struggling to explain to her young kids why U.S. President Donald Trump wants to temporarily ban people born in Iraq from crossing the border.

"We lived through an era of oppression and we came all the way here to let our kids live in harmony and peace," said Samarai. "We never thought that this could happen here."

Samarai, who lives in Calgary, is among scores of Canadian permanent residents from the seven countries affected by Trump's executive order who say their ability to travel to the U.S. is in limbo.

Although the Canadian government has assured permanent residents they will be allowed to cross the border, Samarai and others say U.S. authorities have been less clear and they fear they will be detained.

She said she had planned to fly via Seattle on Saturday to her sister's wedding, but had to rebook her flights to avoid the U.S. Her in-laws, aunt, uncle and cousins all live in the U.S. and now she and her husband can't visit them, she said.

Her father-in-law has a green card and can't leave the U.S. because he fears he won't be allowed back in, she added, while her grandmother had to rebook a flight at the last minute to avoid a U.S. connection because the 82-year-old feared being interrogated.

"It's wrong on all levels," she said.

Samarai said she's happy and grateful to live in Canada, but was dismayed by hateful Facebook comments in response to her family's story, and devastated by Sunday's attack on a Quebec City mosque.

"I just want to ask every single person who is born here, who is not challenged in any way about where he came from or which God he prays to. ... If this happened to you, if you were displaced because of who you are or where you were born, how would you react?"

Danny Ramadan, 32, said he had been looking forward to promoting his upcoming novel, "The Clothesline Swing," in the U.S. His publisher had planned for the Syrian-born Canadian permanent resident to attend literary events south of the border.

"It is important to me to be able to celebrate my achievement," he said.

But he said despite the Canadian government's assurances, he won't risk crossing the border.

Ramadan, an LGBTQ activist in Vancouver, said his boyfriend had bought him Britney Spears tickets in Las Vegas in March, but they've decided to go to Mexico instead.

He said having to change his vacation plans was a "first-world problem," but he noted the irony of his situation, given that Trump said the executive order was aimed at keeping out potential terrorists.

"I'm a gay guy who wants to see Britney Spears. How much less of a terrorist could I be?" he asked with a laugh.

Wyle Baoween, a permanent Canadian resident in Vancouver who was born in Yemen, launched a company, HRx Technology, which aims to eliminate discrimination in hiring. He has a wife and an 18-month-old daughter, and typically travels to the U.S. two or three times a year.

He said he feels "helpless" and the travel ban goes against his company's goals.

"It is our belief and mission ... to treat people equally, no matter their gender or race," he said. "To find myself a target for this, it's very frustrating."

The University of British Columbia has launched a task force to assist the estimated 80 faculty or staff and 350 students who are from the affected countries.

Mohammad Rafatinasr, a 32-year-old Iranian mechanical engineer who earned his PhD at the University of Saskatchewan and is now on a post-graduation work permit, said he was blocked from boarding a flight in Vancouver on Saturday to a research conference in Las Vegas.

Despite applying for a U.S. visa three months ago and receiving it last week, he was told when he tried to check in that he was "inadmissable."

"I was hearing the news, but I didn't expect that it would apply right away, or even to me," he said. "I've lived in Canada for five years. I went through a very strong security check. Suddenly, I'm inadmissable."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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