English, Journalism, Not Welcome


AS HE STOOD IN FRONT OF THE BORDER that separates Mexico from the United States, a strange mix of emotions overcame Yahya Samatar.

One of those emotions was joy. Only three months earlier, Yahya had been forced to flee Somalia after receiving death threats from members of al-Shabaab, the local offshoot of al-Qaeda, and now – after completing a grueling journey that had taken him across the Atlantic and through South and Central America – he was about to arrive to the place he had always hoped to call home: the United States.

But even though Yahya was happy, he was also overcome by anxiety. He had no way of knowing if his next move would turn out the way he wanted, and even though he hoped with all of his might that his efforts had not been in vain, there was just no guarantee that that would be the case.

As he inched his way to the border, Yahya Samatar couldn’t help but feel those two emotions thrash within him. When he finally got to the crossing, he took a deep breath to steady his nerves and walked towards an immigration officer.

“I don’t have a visa,” Yahya told the officer. “But I’d like to apply for asylum in the United States.”

Just a few minutes later, Yahya was behind bars.

“First they put me in a very cold cell at the border, and then I was taken to a maximum security prison where I spent time with murderers and drug dealers,” he remembers.

Despite recommendations against this practice, Yahya was forced to stay at the detention centre throughout the duration of his asylum application, which lasted seven months and 10 days.

“I didn’t have access to Internet, so I couldn’t access anything to make my case very strong and I couldn’t get supporting documentation to take to the court.”

It was November of 2014, and Donald Trump hadn’t officially announced that he was running for president yet. Barack Obama was halfway through his second term at the White House, and yet, Yahya’s situation – like that of thousands of immigrants trapped in detention centres across the United States – was grim.

As the months passed, Yahya couldn’t help but feel sad. As far as he could tell, that feeling came from the fact that he had chosen to live in a country that wanted nothing to do with him.



English, Journalism, Not Welcome


This profile is part of an ongoing series that tells individual stories of people from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq who were banned from entering the United States by Donald Trump’s original executive order. While federal judges had halted the original ban, on March 6, 2017, a second version was signed by the President, renewing travel restrictions for citizens of six of those nations.

Learn more about Not Welcome and read other stories here.

ON THE FIRST PAGE ON MINA’S CANADIAN PASSPORT, right underneath the header that says Place of birth, the words “TEHRAN, IRN” are unmistakably typed out in bold, black letters.

When Mina first received the passport, she felt like those two words were problematic. She had hoped that the section would remain blank; or at the very least, that passport pages could be more nuanced—so that hers read, in the same bold, black letters:


That way – Mina thought – her passport would paint a more accurate picture of her relationship with Iran, and as a bonus, she’d be able to travel around the world hassle-free.


MINA WASN’T EXACTLY BORN AT THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE of Tehran’s international airport, but she was only 40 days old when her family left Iran in search of a new life in the United Arab Emirates.

“I was traveling before I knew it,” Mina says.

Since that first trip, her life has been a collection of passport stamps and boarding pass stubs. She’s only 23 years old, but has already lived in Dubai, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal, and has travelled far and wide, visiting countries across North America, Europe and Asia.

And while that international lifestyle allowed Mina to see the world, for many years it also exposed her to a rhetoric that pushed her to reject her Iranian identity.

“I grew up watching American TV and American news and almost everything I saw or heard portrayed Iran in a bad light. I was too young to exercise critical thinking and so I believed whatever was fed to me,” she remembers. “My mind was so colonized!”

For the better part of two decades, if anyone asked her where she was from, she would be overcome by a “sudden feeling of guilt and shame” and would try to ignore the question altogether.

But all of that changed a couple of years ago, when an unexpected conversation with an immigration officer at London’s Heathrow Airport changed her perceptions on Iran. That day, as the officer began talking about the wonders of Persian poetry and about the brilliance of the Iranian scientists and neurosurgeons that he met, something inside of Mina clicked, and all of a sudden she reframed the way she saw her place of birth.

“After that encounter I started saying ‘Hell yeah, I’m from Iran and I’m proud of it.’”



English, Journalism, Not Welcome


This story is part of an ongoing series that explores the lives of people from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq who were affected by Donald Trump’s executive order. Learn more about Not Welcome and read other stories here.


ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA, the Orontes River slithers out of Lebanon’s Beqqa Valley like a giant snake of silt and water.

By the time it reaches the city of Homs, in southwestern Syria, it has crawled its way across national borders, cut through endless olive groves, and squeezed past an ancient dam.

For someone casually reading about it, the river may seem like another remote body of water cutting across a scenic landscape, but if you hear Ali talk about it, you’ll know that the Asi – as it’s known in Arabic – is much more than just that.

For him, the river has turned into symbol, an image of simpler times when endless summer swims – not war – dominated his life.

“كانت جنة,” Ali says as he remembers those days.  “It was paradise,” Barbar translates.


English, Journalism, Not Welcome


On Jan. 27, 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning anyone from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq from entering the United States for 90 days. While a court order has temporarily lifted the ban, people from those seven countries have heard Trump’s message loud and clear, and are convinced of one thing: they are no longer welcome in the United States.

This profile is part of an ongoing series that examines the lives of those people banned from entering the United States by Trump’s executive order. The stories are unapologetically political; a small act of resistance against the absurdity of life in the Trump era.

 Part I. The Iraqi journalist

I WASN’T THERE WHEN THIS HAPPENED, but those who were tell the story like this:

“The plastic chairs were set up in a big circle, and it was hot, very hot. Everyone was seated: the full production team plus six or seven Chileans. They were all HIV positive, and they wanted to know why we were so interested in telling their stories. They also wanted to see if they could trust us.
We went around the circle and introduced ourselves and told them why we thought it was important for the world to know that HIV was spreading in this forgotten corner of the world. We spoke in English and our local producer translated.
Our explanations must have been good, because when we finished, they looked at each other and immediately started sharing their stories. They spoke in Spanish. Our fixer translated.
As we went around the circle, the stories got tougher and tougher. One young man seemed to have a particularly hard one. As he told it, his voice started to break up. By the end he was crying inconsolably.
We had no idea what he was saying, and none of us knew what to do. Except for Ahmed. He was sitting next to the young man, and while the man cried, Ahmed gently put his hand on his shoulder, and signaled to him, with a very small gesture that moved the whole room, that he wasn’t alone after all.”

It was the typical kind of thing that a person you wouldn’t want anywhere near your country would do in that sort of circumstance.