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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Yemen appeals to US to let in citizens stranded in Malaysia

Yemeni winners of US government's 'green card' lottery were hit by Donald Trump's travel ban 

Yemenis Rafek Al Sanani, right, and Abdel Rahman Zaid look through their documents in Serdang, on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where they are waiting to travel on to the United States after winning the US government's "green card" lottery. Rozanna Latiff / Reuters / July 20, 2017
Yemenis Rafek Al Sanani, right, and Abdel Rahman Zaid look through their documents in Serdang, on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where they are waiting to travel on to the United States after winning the US government's "green card" lottery. Rozanna Latiff / Reuters / July 20, 2017

Yemen is urging the US government to take in dozens of its citizens who travelled to Malaysia in recent months expecting to immigrate to the United States, only to find themselves stranded by president Donald Trump's temporary travel ban.

The ban, which was blocked by lower courts before being partially reinstated by the supreme court in June, temporarily bars citizens of Yemen and five other Muslim-majority countries with no "bona fide" connections to the United States from travelling there.

Among those affected are citizens of the six countries who won a US government lottery last year that enabled them to apply for the so-called "green card" that grants them permanent residence in the United States.

A recent email from the US government warned lottery winners still awaiting their visas that "it is plausible that your case will not be issuable" due to the travel ban.

The 90-day ban will expire on September 27, just three days before the lottery winners' eligibility for the green cards expires. Given the slow pace of the immigration process, the US state department would struggle to issue their visas in time.

For Yemenis, the situation is particularly difficult. Because the United States does not maintain a diplomatic post in Yemen, its citizens are assigned to other countries to apply for their visas, and many of them to travel to Malaysia. Because of immigration restrictions, they are not allowed to work in Malaysia and those stranded there are slowly running out of money. Most survive on funds donated by other Yemenis or sent by relatives in Yemen, which is in the midst of a civil war.

According to Yemeni officials, most of the 58 lottery winners still waiting for a response to their applications are in Malaysia. Some have been stuck in security checks for more than eight months.

Yemen's ambassador to the United States, Ahmed bin Mubarak, said talks were started with the state department this month to find a way to get them into the US despite the travel ban.

"They've been in Malaysia for more than six months and sold everything in Yemen," Mr bin Mubarak said. "We are doing what we can."

US officials said they would work with Yemen's government to help those who qualify for exceptions to the travel ban to be allowed in on a case-by-case basis, said Mohammed Al Hadhrami, a Yemeni diplomat in Washington.

Based on the supreme court ruling, state department officials have said the 90-day ban would not apply if visa applicants can demonstrate close family ties or other approved connections to a person or institution in the US.

Mr Al Hadhrami said Yemeni officials are now scrambling to help the lottery winners demonstrate how they might qualify for an exemption and are also pushing to get a waiver for those who do not have any relationships.

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