Syrian family dreams of being reunited after Muslim ban

Refugees say their lives were put on hold after Trump's executive order

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When former US president Donald Trump signed into law Executive Order 13769, it was a crushing stroke of the pen for millions across the world, among them the Jomaa family.

The order, which became known as the Muslim ban, prevented millions of people from largely Muslim countries from entering the US. Overnight, families were separated and refugees' dreams of new lives were denied.

The Jomaa brothers had been through the struggle of fleeing Syria – Mohammed with his 10 children. Then there was the bureaucratic morass of interviews and paperwork at the US embassy. Yet there was further heartbreak to come. Abed made it to the US, and Mohammed was set to follow soon after.

But the so-called Muslim ban put a stop to those plans. They were not the only ones. More than 200 million people were affected by the ban, which initially listed seven countries, including Syria, Iraq and Somalia. It was expanded to 13 countries – including Africa’s most populous, Nigeria. Even Myanmar, where the Rohingya were fleeing ethnic cleansing, was caught up in the ban.

Almost four years later, and the two brothers are daring to imagine they will be reunited soon.

The ban was rescinded on January 25, as one of President Joe Biden’s very first moves in office, and a single presidential signature has returned hope to millions of families like the Jomaas.

As they prepared dinner at their home in Lebanon, Mohammed’s son Ahmad said he dreamt of opening a restaurant in the US.

“I hope the Americans will like our food,” he said.

The ban left Mohammed and his family in limbo, unsure whether they might make it to America.

Even four years on, they are furious at Mr Trump.

“He [Trump] destroyed our life, and put it on hold. We didn’t know when we’d be able to leave," he said.

That anger extends to his daughter Zahida, too.

“We were so happy packing our bags and getting ready. We had plans for our future in the US. Suddenly, the ban was passed. I was in shock,” she said.

“The country of liberty and respect for human rights. We fled our country because of suppression and lack of freedom of expression, to be faced with such a racist decision. It is scary. Trump destroyed our dreams.

“The older kids can’t settle down; education has also been put on hold.”