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Tears as Trump ban leaves 26,000 refugees stranded in Kenya

by Katy Migiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 February 2017 16:55 GMT

Refugees from South Sudan queue to attend the celebrations to mark World Refugee Day at the Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana District, northwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, June 20, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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"They are feeling shocked, depressed, despairing and heartbroken"

By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Somali refugee Ahmed Omar Bihi said on Wednesday that he fears for his wife's sanity following Donald Trump's travel ban and accused the U.S. president of "dismantling all our dreams".

Trump's executive order curbing immigration has sparked international outcry, provoking chaos for travellers and bewilderment among immigrants chasing the American Dream.

On Friday, the U.S. president banned immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen - and put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States.

Immigrants and refugees were kept off flights and left stranded in airports worldwide amid scenes of confusion and anger after the sudden clampdown.

Somali refugee Bihi, his wife Halay Hussein Barre, and their 10 children have been living in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp for nearly four years while their resettlement to the United States is processed.

"From the moment Trump came to power, her stress was increasing," he said in a telephone interview from a transit centre in the camp, on Kenya's arid northern border.

"Trump is dismantling all our dreams."

Some 26,000 refugees in Kenya have been affected by the ban, most of them Somali, said United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman, Yvonne Ndege.

Resettlement from Kenya can take up to a decade, she said, due to extensive medical checks and interviews.

Bihi said his wife "went mad" in 2015 as their family was the only one left among hundreds taken to the transit centre in 2013 as part of a resettlement process.

"She fled from her home, she was beating up her children for nothing... Sometimes she slapped me," said Bihi, adding that her condition had improved with medication.

The family was told the process would take six months, but he said they are still waiting almost four years later.

Bihi, now in his early 40s, said he fled Kismayo in Somalia as a teenager after his father, a prominent businessman, was murdered and the family's property looted. He can never go home.

"This policy places the burden of hosting refugees on countries that are already overburdened," said Geno Teofilo, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, as low- and mid-income countries house nine out of 10 of the world's displaced.


Half of the 26,000 refugees hit by the ban in Kenya have already won approval for U.S. resettlement while the other half await interview by the U.S. State Department, Ndege said.

"They are feeling shocked, depressed, despairing and heartbroken," she said from a transit centre in the capital, Nairobi, host to about 140 refugees who were due to fly out over the last few days.

Around half of the refugees in the transit centre are children, she said, several seriously sick.

"There are so many vulnerable people here in the transit centre, orphans... women and children who have experienced abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence."

Many people have been crying as they were poised to join family members in the United States and had already sold all their possessions ahead of the journey, she said.

"They don't understand why America won't take them after all these years of scrutiny," she said.

"They have one-way tickets out of here."

Trump said the ban would help protect the United States from terrorism, with "extreme vetting" needed to protect the country.

Bihi said refugees from the seven banned countries should win priority resettlement because of the hardship they face at home.

"He must revoke this visa ban in order to save people like us," he said. "We are stranded, we have nowhere to go."

(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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