On the ground: Dreams dashed and anger at discrimination

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi may not be allowed into the US despite his film being nominated for an Oscar.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi may not be allowed into the US despite his film being nominated for an Oscar.

Social media shook with emotion. Headlines shouted the news. Legal scholars debated the order's scope. But the most immediate effect of President Donald Trump's executive order barring refugees from entering the United States and halting entry from seven Muslim-majority countries could be quantified on a human scale: refugees and other immigrants from those seven countries who were unable to enter the country or face difficulties doing so. Here are some of their stories.


An American sales operations director in Singapore and his Iraqi-born wife are among those dealing with uncertainty following a controversial order restricting travel into the United States last Friday.

On his Facebook page, Mr Randy Olsen, 39, wrote that he had been planning to relocate back to the US next month with his wife and their two-year-old daughter when he read the news about the order.

His wife, National University of Singapore (NUS) research fellow Zaineb Al-Qazwini, was issued her green card - a document that allows permanent residence in the US - last month after a two-year process.


For the brief moment I was handcuffed, I couldn't control myself and I just started crying. It was humiliating. I thought I was going to be returned to Sudan.

MS NISRIN OMER, a Stanford University PhD student, on her ordeal after a research trip to Sudan, where she is a citizen.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Olsen, who has been living and working in Singapore for the past six years, said that he had tried going to the Embassy of the United States here last Friday but it was closed.

"It's been frustrating," said Mr Olsen, adding that his e-mails to the embassy had also not been answered. "There hasn't been any direction for Americans living here."

On its website, the embassy said that it would be closed between Jan 27 and 30 in observance of the Chinese New Year holiday.

Dr Al-Qazwini, 33, said they could not stay in Singapore as they did not have permanent residency here. The couple said they would approach the US Embassy again when it reopens tomorrow.


Mr Fuad Sharef and his family waited two years for a visa to settle in the United States, selling their home and quitting jobs and schools in Iraq before setting off on Saturday for a new life they saw as a reward for working with US organisations.

But Mr Sharef, his wife and three children were prevented from boarding their connecting flight to New York from Cairo airport that day.

Their passports confiscated, the distraught family was detained overnight at Cairo airport and forced to board a flight back to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil yesterday morning.

"We were treated like drug dealers, escorted by deportation officers," Mr Sharef told Reuters by telephone from Cairo airport. "I feel very guilty towards my wife and kids. I feel like I'm the reason behind their dismay."

Mr Sharef said he was employed by a pharmaceutical company before leaving Iraq, but had worked on projects funded by US organisations such as USAid in the years following the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The family applied for a US visa in September 2014 as security conditions in Iraq deteriorated, with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria insurgents seizing swathes of the country and carrying out brutal killings.

Mr Sharef's work with the US organisations made him particularly vulnerable to attack by militants, who view him as a traitor.


Ms Nisrin Omer, 39, is a green card holder and has lived in the US since 1993. She graduated from Harvard University and the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school, which counts Mr Trump's daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump, among its alumni.

Last Friday night, Ms Omer was detained at Kennedy International Airport in New York as she returned from Sudan, where she is a citizen, after a research trip for her anthropology PhD at Stanford University.

Ms Omer said Customs officials were apologetic and appeared confused about what they were supposed to do with the detained travellers. "I have to do this," one told her. For five hours, they asked about her travels, her academic research and her views on Sudanese politics.

At one point, she said, they aggressively patted her down and handcuffed her. They removed the restraints when she began to cry.

"For the brief moment I was handcuffed, I couldn't control myself and I just started crying," Ms Omer said. "It was humiliating. I thought I was going to be returned to Sudan."

After Ms Omer was released, she said she felt like one of the lucky ones. "There are a lot of people being treated much worse or are being sent back," she said. "If they get sent back to Iraq or Syria, it is a life-or-death situation."



The ability of Mr Asghar Farhadi, an Oscar-nominated Iranian director, to attend the Academy Awards ceremony next month was thrown into question by Mr Trump's order.

The director, whose film, The Salesman, has been nominated in the best foreign language film category, was not immediately available for comment.

But early on Saturday, Mr Trita Parsi, director of the National Iranian American Council, based in Washington, said in a Twitter post: "Confirmed: Iran's Asghar Farhadi won't be let into the US to attend Oscar's. He's nominated for best foreign-language film... #MuslimBan".

In a telephone interview later, Mr Parsi clarified he had heard only second-hand that Mr Farhadi would not attend the ceremony on Feb 26.

It was unclear whether Mr Farhadi would still request an exemption to the visa ban or be granted one by the US government.

Mr Farhadi's film, A Separation, won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2012.


• Additional reporting by Zhaki Abdullah

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'On the ground: Dreams dashed and anger at discrimination'. Print Edition | Subscribe