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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

US airport holding 77-year-old Iraqi grandmother under Trump ban

Siham Abaas had flown to Dallas to visit her son for the first time since he and his family were settled there as refugees in 2013, reports Rob Crilly in the US. It has been four years since she last saw her grandchildren
People gather to protest against the travel ban imposed as a result of Donald Trump's executive order at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on January 28, 2017. Laura Buckman/Reuters
People gather to protest against the travel ban imposed as a result of Donald Trump's executive order at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on January 28, 2017. Laura Buckman/Reuters
New York // When Khaled Abdaan set off for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport his main concern was how his ailing 77-year-old mother would navigate the corridors and immigration checks of a strange land after a 15-hour flight from Dubai.

She was visiting her son in the US for the first time since he and his family were settled there as refugees from Iraq in 2013. It had been four years since she last saw her grandchildren.

Mr Abdaan waited with growing anxiety as passengers from the Emirates flight passed through the arrivals hall and there was still no sign of his mother.

It was only when he overheard a Syrian family on the phone to a relative that he discovered she was one of nine people detained as they set foot on American soil.

All had visas but all were unlucky enough to have already been airborne when Donald Trump signed an executive order immediately banning the entry of travellers from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.

On Sunday, some 24 hours after Mr Abdaan's mother landed, he was still waiting to see her after an anxious night in a Dallas hotel.

"She has done nothing wrong," said Mr Abdaan, a civil engineer. "She did everything properly. All she is guilty of is being unlucky, flying at the wrong time."

Some 12 people were detained at New York's JFK airport and dozens more nationwide. Aboard the flight landing at Dallas were travellers from Sudan, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Lawyers working for the release of detained travellers said they did not know how many people were being held around the country and how many had been deported before their cases could be reviewed.

That meant an agonising wait for Mr Abdaan as he hunted for news of his mother, Siham Abaas. She suffers from hypertension and epilepsy but no one could tell him whether she had her medicine or whether she would be released.

"I tried to call her but I couldn't. They won't let anyone use their phones," said Mr Abdaan who has been in contact with airport officials.

"I talked to an (customs and border protection) officer and they said she would have a phone call later. Having a phone call, that is for criminals who have been arrested for doing something wrong. They even have a right to a lawyer and she hasn't had a lawyer."

Mrs Abaas was finally allowed a brief phone call after being held for four hours and signing papers that banned her from the US for five years, said her son.

On the phone call Mrs Abaas was distressed and kept asking her son again and again when he would be in to see her. But Mr Abdaan said he had to tell her that he didn't think he would be allowed.

Although his mother speaks English, Mr Abdaan said he was worried about her ability to cope with a confusing situation and physical confinement.

"My worry was would she be able to find her way in the airport," he said. "The whole trip was challenging for her, not just the way it has ended."

Despite the ordeal, he said he did not blame Mr Trump for enacting the ban.

"He is trying to keep America safe, I understand that," he said.

Instead he blamed chaotic implementation for criminalising innocent travellers with valid visas.

"The law is supposed to be followed and enforced, I understand that," he said. "But the law should be followed and sent to the airlines before a 77-year-old lady gets on an airplane and then is detained for no reason."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: January 29, 2017 04:00 AM

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