The Iranian community in the United States is going through a nerve-wracking weekend, with news of friends and relatives barred from boarding a flight to the United States spreading like fire on social media and by word of mouth. It seems like everybody knows someone affected by President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, and many are consumed by fears for their own future. Those currently in the United States are now trapped inside for fear they will not be able to return, and are postponing business and research trips and family reunions indefinitely.
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This week, Azar, 32, was supposed to board a plane to Iran to see her sister, who is suffering from liver failure. “I was planning to go back to Iran to see my family, my sister is ill, but I cannot do it anymore," she says. "I was hoping I could be with my family, help them somehow." After Trump signed the executive order on Friday, she was forced to cancel her flight indefinitely. “I told my family that I can't go back and they were very understanding. What can we do? I can't go and then not be able to come back to the life I built for the last seven years."
Azar has no family in the United States, and works as a software engineer in Seattle. "I’m not optimistic about the ban, they say it's only temporary, but there is a big chance it can become permanent," she says.
The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, including those with dual nationality that includes one of those countries, and extends on a case-by-case basis to "green card" holders who are authorized to live and work in the United States.
Ali Abdi, a doctoral student at Yale University, traveled to Afghanistan for research after participating in the Women’s March on Washington a week ago. In a skype interview from Dubai, he tells Haaretz that for now, he is barred from returning.
“I can't go back to the U.S. because of the executive order signed by Trump, and I can't go back to Iran my homeland," he says. "I’m a human rights activist, and for the last 10 years I have been vocal about human rights abuses in Iran. I’m neither welcomed by the United States, nor Iran. It’s a stateless condition."
As he waits to find out whether he can stay in Kabul, Abdi is stressing that there are others in more difficult situations. “There are lots of people whose lives have been upturned, students missing their classes, kids who can't see their parents, and it is my responsibility to raise their voices as well as my own when I speak with the media," he says.
“The ban is racist, it's Islamophobic, it has nothing to do with the safety of the U.S.," he says. “It's just adding to the sentiments of racism and bigotry already on the rise in the U.S."
An Iranian architect, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing her green card process, has been living in New York since 2009. In their spare time, she and her husband perform music from the Middle East in order to raise awareness for conflicts in the region. "It’s so weird that it has to be like that," she laments. "This is supposed to be a free country."
The Tehran government on Saturday vowed to retaliate by banning the entry of Americans, but Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif said on Twitter that Americans who already hold Iranian visas could enter Iran.
"Unlike the U.S., our decision is not retroactive. All with valid Iranian visa will be gladly welcomed," he said.
Reuters contributed to the report.