Fuad Sharef took one of the first planes out of Iraq with a connection to the United States this past weekend, just hours after a judge in Seattle blocked US President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven mainly Muslim countries.
Sharef, who worked for a USAID subcontractor in Iraq, was prevented with his wife and three kids from boarding a U.S.-bound flight last week via Cairo after Trump signed a 90-day travel ban on citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The US president also imposed a 120-day ban on all refugees.
Sharef said he came out of the tumultuous week with a lesson he wanted his kids to learn as well.
“Yeah, my life changed dramatically. You know, ups and downs, and I learned a lesson that if you have a right, never surrender,” he said before he and his family departed Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, on a Turkish Airlines flight with a connection to New York via Istanbul.
Once in the United States, the family will head to Nashville, Tennessee, where the local Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition is planning to welcome them at the airport.
“Join us at the Nashville International Airport (BNA) to welcome Fuad Sharef Suleman and his family to their new home in Nashville,” the TIRRC said on its Facebook event page.
“Nashvillians fought to bring them home – and now we can show them the very best of Southern hospitality!,” it said.
Nael Zaino, a Syrian refugee who worked for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Turkey, also received help from Americans.
He was reunited with family in Boston on Saturday after getting a waiver from the State Department, thanks to intervention by U.S. lawmakers who were contacted by Zaino’s relatives.
Zaino’s arrival was relatively smooth, though he was pulled out of the arrival line, put through “secondary screening” and asked a long series of questions before a U.S. agent stamped his passport and gave him a friendly send-off.
“He said, ‘Go on, start your life, and enjoy your time with your son,'” Zaino said. “I didn’t believe it until I came out of the airport. At that moment I realized I’m not in a dream.”
Zaino had received a visa to join his wife and U.S.-born infant son in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, but was blocked from travelling after Trump signed his executive order the same day, according to his sister-in-law.
“We’ve been lobbying a lot of senators in the last few days,” said Katty al-Hayek, a PhD student in Massachusetts with her own pending asylum claim, who met him at the airport.
“It’s been a long, stressful story but senators … were able to get him a waiver from the State Department.”