DUBAI: Years after he fled political persecution in his native Yemen, a new life in the United States was finally taking shape for democracy activist Abdulraqeb al-Duais.
But US President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries has upset his plans to bring his family over to the United States – where he has political asylum – and has left him in limbo in Malaysia.
“It’s like it’s not real – like I’m living a nightmare now,” he said. “I believed my colour, my religion was not an issue in (the United States) and that it represented progress and freedom. Now I don’t know what to believe.”
A US green card holder, Duais flew to Malaysia from New York on Friday to be with his family when they appeared for an immigration interview at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, to which they fled their war-damaged home country.
The 41-year-old father expected prompt approval for his wife and three young children to acquire green cards and join him.
But now his appointment is likely cancelled as some US missions abroad advised residents from the seven countries – Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Syria – not to attend interviews or pay visa fees because they can no longer be processed.
The US embassy in Kuala Lumpur could not immediately be reached for comment on any changes to its activities following the new visa measures.
Trump’s administration says the ban is in place pending study of how to keep militants out, and denies accusations by rights groups that the move singles out Muslims.
The ban brings uncertainty not just for his family, but to Duais himself.
Government officials have provided various accounts on treatment for green card holders abroad – that entry would be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis, that they should report to a US mission abroad before returning or that they may merely face more questioning upon arrival on US soil.
“I can’t return to Yemen. I worked against the regime there as a political activist and was among those in the independent youth movement which started a revolution in 2011,” said Duais, who headed a civil society group before he moved to the US in 2011.
Mass protests as part of the “Arab Spring” forced Yemen’s veteran autocrat President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012. Three years later, the country descended into civil war.
Saleh’s General People’s Congress party controls Sanaa together with the Iran-allied Houthi movement. They are engaged in a war against Yemen’s internationally recognised government.
Duais said he faced death threats and Yemeni authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 2011 while he was in United States as a delegate to a leadership program, prompting him to seek asylum.
“I’m not a rich man, I’m making this visit to keep myself and my family safe. I’ve got a new business in America and I’ve just registered with the tax authorities,” he added.
“I want to pay my way and be an American. This may not be possible anymore. I did everything right and according to the rules, but now nothing is clear for me.”