Hundreds of Yemenis with US visas stranded in Djibouti

Many Yemenis have fled on boats across the Bab al-Mandab strait to Djibouti

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On the far side of the Bab al-Mandab strait - Arabic for “the gates of grief” - from their violent homeland, hundreds of Yemenis with US visas are stranded in the tiny African state of Djibouti because of President Donald Trump’s entry ban, an American lawyer said Wednesday.

“These are all children, parents and the spouses of US citizens,” immigration lawyer Julie Goldberg told The Associated Press from the Horn of Africa nation, emphasizing that those stranded are not refugees, though Yemen is engulfed in civil war. They received visas last week, she said.

Goldberg has obtained a court order dated Tuesday from the US District Court in California’s central district instructing the US government not to enforce Trump’s executive order. She is now seeking an airline that will comply with it.

Mohamed Mosleh Jeran is one of the many waiting. After his family’s home was blown up in Yemen’s conflict, he and his wife and two young children spent two years in Djibouti. Last month, their younger son died during what should have been routine surgery. On Thursday, the family received their US visas and looked forward to joining Jeran’s father, a US citizen, in New York City.

But on the following day, Trump announced his executive order suspending immigration from seven Majority-Muslim countries. On Saturday, Jeran’s family was turned away at the Turkish Airlines check-in counter, Goldberg said. A spokesman for the airline did not respond to a call for comment.

“Finally I am leaving Djibouti, but in my heart I was upset, I lost one of my kids,” Jeran recalled to the AP. “But what can you do? This is life. I was happy my wife and son were leaving Djibouti, finally.” But when they were turned away, “my wife, she was like a child, crying, my son, too.’”

Jeran has been accepted to the University of Toledo to begin a masters’ program in March, Goldberg said.

“It’s super frustrating,” she said of the Yemenis’ plight. “They’re running out of money. Djibouti is very expensive. They can’t go back to Yemen, they would be killed.”

Yemen has been gripped by conflict since 2014. A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, has been carrying out an air campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for nearly two years. Many Yemenis have fled on boats across the Bab al-Mandab strait to Djibouti or other Horn of Africa countries.

In the United States, relatives of the stranded Yemenis are anguished.

Esam Molhi and his wife, both green card holders from Yemen, now fear leaving for Djibouti to reunite with their 3-year-old daughter because Trump’s order might keep them from returning home.

The girl was born in Yemen, and the US Embassy there refused to let her fly with her mother to join Molhi in the US, Goldberg said. The family has been pursuing a US visa for the girl since then.

The child is staying in a rented room in Djibouti with her Yemeni grandfather, Molhi told the AP from his home in San Francisco, where he works as an Uber driver. He has not yet seen her in person, and his wife has not seen her since she was a month and a half old.

“This is unfair,” Molhi said of Trump’s order. “I want him to feel as I feel, you know?”

The US Embassy in Djibouti has posted an urgent notice online telling people, including those with dual nationalities, from the countries affected - Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - not to schedule visa appointments or even attend existing visa appointments.

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