US judge’s ruling gives hope to some ME travellers

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS/WASHINGTON: Citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries banned from the United States by President Donald Trump can resume boarding US-bound flights, major airlines said on Saturday, after a Seattle judge blocked the executive order. The ruling gave hope to some Middle East travellers but left them unclear how long the new travel window might last. In the wake of Friday’s ruling, Qatar Airways was the first to say it would allow passengers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to resume flying to US cities if they had valid documents.
Fellow Gulf carriers Etihad and Emirates said they would do the same, as did Air France, Spain’s Iberia and Germany’s Lufthansa. Officials in Lebanon and Jordan said they had received no new instructions on the issue.
Ibrahim Ghaith, a Syrian barber who fled Damascus in 2013, said in Jordan: “Today we heard that the measures may have been abolished but we are not sure if this is just talk. If they go back on the decision, people will be overjoyed.”
Iraqi refugee Nizar al Qassab said in Lebanon: “If it really has been frozen, I thank God, because my wife and children should have been in America by now.”
The 52-year-old said his family had been due to travel to the United States for resettlement on January 31. The trip was cancelled two days before that, and he was now waiting for a phone call from UN officials overseeing their case. “It’s in God’s hands,” he said.
RACE AGAINST TIME: Two Sudanese travellers said they were trying to travel as soon as possible, fearing the ban might be reinstated.
“I’m in a race against time,” said a 31-year-old female academic who declined to be named for fear of any consequences.
“Today I face a real problem in Khartoum because the international airlines are refusing to sell me a ticket to travel for fear of contradicting the President’s decision. Now I am going from one airline company to another to convince them about the court’s decision,” she said.
A 34-year-old Sudanese engineer, who also did not want to be named, said: “After the court’s decision I am now trying to leave as fast as possible before the situation changes once more.”
US Customs and Border Protection told airlines they could board travellers affected within hours of Friday’s ruling, but budget airline Norwegian, which operates transatlantic flights including from London and Oslo, said many uncertainties remained about the legal position.
“It’s still very unclear,” spokeswoman Charlotte Holmbergh Jacobsson said. “We advise passengers to contact the US Embassy … We have to follow the US rules.”
In Cairo, aviation sources said Egypt Air and other airlines had told their sales offices of Friday’s ruling and would allow people previously affected by the ban to book flights.
But for some who had changed their travel plans following the ban, the order was not enough reassurance.
Josephine Abu Assaleh, who was stopped from entering the United States last week with five members of her family, was hesitant to express any hope in the court ruling as she awaited word from her lawyers.
“I will not say if I have hope or not. I wait, watch, and then I build my hopes. We left the matter with the lawyers. When they tell us the decision has been cancelled, we will decide whether to go back or not,” she said in Damascus, speaking by telephone.
Abu Assaleh, 60, and her family only learnt of Trump’s order after landing at Philadelphia International Airport with US visas that were granted in 2016, some 13 years after they initially made their applications.
VISA SUSPENSIONS: Trump’s order caused chaos at airports across the United States last week. Virtually all refugees were also barred, upending the lives of thousands of people who had spent years seeking asylum in the US.
The State Department said on Friday that almost 60,000 visas were suspended following Trump’s order. It was not clear whether that suspension was automatically revoked or what reception travellers with such visas might get at US airports. — Reuters