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Local Syrian community uneasy over US ban

Local Syrian community uneasy over US ban


Following a temporary ban placed on citizens from seven countries by President of the United States Donald Trump, a number of Middle Eastern businessmen here are apprehensive about travelling to that country.

Last Friday, January 27, Trump signed an Executive Order which temporarily barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, namely, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the US.

The effect of the ban has sparked protests worldwide and has been felt even here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Yesterday, one Syrian businessman, who operates a store in the Middle Street area, said that 90 per cent of his goods come from the US and while he sees the ban as troubling, he understands the move by Trump.

He said that he has dual citizenship (SVG and Syria) and thinks that the move by the American president is aimed at protecting American citizens, although it was done in a rash manner.

“If they think they have to protect their country, that is them, but about 97 per cent of the Syrians here (in the Caribbean) are not Muslims, but Christians.

The businessman added that he has had an American visa for the last 30 years (three consecutive 10-year visas).

He added, “The new president wants to have more security and that is his right to protect his citizens. Syria is a war zone, Iraq is a war zone, Yemen is a war zone… in Europe you have to remember that a few radical fighters were hidden among the refugees that went over, a small percentage.

“You have to put your foot in their shoes, they have right…”

The businessman, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said that he believes that in three months, everything will be cleared up.

“We have to contact embassies to see how it will go for people who have special business there,” he stressed.

Another businessman of Syrian descent said that he travels to the USA for medical attention, but his children, who were born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, do most of their shopping in the US.

His American goods represent about 50 per cent of his business, he said.

“The way it sounding, I don’t think I would be able to go if I tried, but we are waiting to get the answer,” said the elderly businessman, who did not want to comment extensively on the ban until he had all the facts relating to Syrians based here.

Another Syrian national, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said that he was rejected for a visa three times by the US Embassy in Barbados, although in his mind, he had all his documents in place.

He said that he now shops in Panama and has blanked the USA, but sees the ban as extremely negative.

Another popular businessman in Middle Street described the ban as “bad” and is hoping that the issue is cleared up soon.

The Middle Eastern businessmen who ply their trade here are mostly from Lebanon and Syria. The Lebanese who ply their trade alongside their Syrian neighbours say they stand in solidarity with them.

In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, Minister of Economic Planning, Sustainable Development, Industry, Internal Trade, Information and Labour Camillo Gonsalves encouraged local Syrians not to travel to the USA at this point.

“This is not official, but I’d encourage our Syrian-Vincy community to refrain from any attempts to travel to the USA — even if you have a valid US visa in your SVG passport OR EVEN A GREEN CARD — until we can receive some clarity from the US Embassy on the specifics of President Trump’s recent immigration restrictions.

“If you are Syrian-born you may be denied entry to the USA for the time being, even if you are Christian and have a valid SVG passport. I’m sure that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contacted the US Embassy in Barbados for clarification. In the meantime, sit tight,” said Gonsalves in his post.

Up to press time, Gonsalves could not be reached for clarity on matter.

The Executive Order, which in effect bars about 218 million people from entering the US, is likely just a first step toward establishing a broader ban and it is unclear how many more countries will be added to the list.

The controversial Executive Order is dubbed: “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” and many of the provisions in the order are consistent with Trump’s campaign pledges.

Nationals of the seven countries who had already arrived or were on their way to the US when the Executive Order was signed were detained at airports across the US, but US District Judge Ann Donnelly blocked part of the Executive Order, ruling that travellers who had already landed in the US with valid visas should not be sent back to their home countries.

Yesterday, the Vincentian-Syrian community waited on tenterhooks by their phones to find out if a colleague who had travelled to the US that day on business had been given entry.

The male had made plans for the trip long before the Executive Order was signed by Trump.

However, a call at around 5 p.m. yesterday informing them that he was given entry eased a bit of the tension among the local Syrian community.(LC)