2012 I set up a charity kitchen to help the people flowing into my hometown as they escaped the conflict engulfing the rest of Syria. They were fleeing to Aleppo, a beautiful city where people of all creeds lived in understanding, harmony and love.
Most of my family remain there, somehow safe, along with our home. But residents live in fear of a merciless tyrant systematically murdering his opposition with the aid of barrel bombs and poison gas, regardless of the cost to children, hospitals and the very future of the Middle East. The familiar pictures of devastation tell only a fraction of the story.
Thousands of miles away, many other Syrian relatives and friends are in the heart of the supposed free world. Doctors, engineers and architects, they are now afraid to leave the United States in case they cannot return, courtesy of Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Having worked with refugees for years, I know they are in desperate need of help, not victimisation. That is why when I arrived in the UK, I set up From Syria with Love – a charity that has now raised tens of thousands of pounds to provide emergency education, empowerment and relief for victims of the crisis.
But according to Trump, some refugees are more legal than others, and those from seven Muslim-majority countries are unfit for American soil. And while the ban is, at the moment, temporary for some immigrants and refugees, the Syrian refugee programme has been suspended indefinitely. There is, of course, no place on the seemingly arbitrary list for Saudi Arabia – an exporter of terrorism – or Israel, a country in violation of international law.
Now my family and I are unable to visit not only Syria, but also the US, thanks to this bigoted, ignorant administration. For me, this is in spite of having a valid American visa and legal status in the UK, where I recently graduated with a master of science degree. Somehow I am considered a “threat” to Trump’s nation.
My city has been destroyed, thanks in no small part to western intervention in the Middle East, but a country with so much responsibility for our plight will not even allow us to step across its border – let alone provide us with refuge. Regardless of whether we need to see an ill family member for a few days, or if we can offer years of hard, skilled work, we are still banned. The status of those with dual nationalities remains in question.
All this is in a supposed effort to curb radicalisation and terrorism, though you can almost sense the real purpose: for Trump to say “I told you so”, if and when an attack comes. The ban will, of course, only encourage division and, therefore, terrorism. Coupled with the intervention that I have seen bring misery to so many, this makes for a potent, regressive mix.
In these moments of such significance, future generations will judge those watching such blatant injustice unfold as harshly as the real terrorists – Trump and his gang of racists butchering our common humanity.
Theresa May’s toadying and pathetic inability to recognise the seriousness of the ban belies her lack of care – as if it were not obvious enough from her time in the Home Office. She is on the wrong side of history – but, alongside Malaka Mohammed, a Palestinian refugee, and Lizzie Harman, an activist from Brighton, I am trying not to be. Tonight, in conjunction with protests nationwide, we have organised a demonstration in Exeter – where we are all based – against the ban and May’s complicity.
We want to play our small part in a global show of unity in the face of ignorance. Wherever you are, show solidarity and join us, to make sure love can eventually trump hate.