Iraqi family’s move to US blocked by Trump’s travel ban
DIYARBAKIR - If they had known what would happen, Fuad Sharif and his wife would have waited before quitting their jobs, selling their belongings and leaving Iraq with their children for the US.
Sharif and his family are among a growing number of people whose lives have been upended by travel restrictions ordered by President Donald Trump on seven Muslim-majority countries with the stated aim of keeping America safe from "radical Islamic terrorists".
"After two years of waiting... they confirmed that I do not represent any danger to the United States and the American people," Sharif, 51, said.
"On this basis, they gave me an immigration visa," said Sharif, who worked with RTI International, a US-based non-profit organisation contracted by the American government to work on issues including local governance in Iraq.
Sharif said he was hoping for a "new life" in the US, but now he and his family are back in Iraq.
Sitting with his wife and children at a house in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region among a number of bags they had planned to take with them to America, Sharif's disappointment is clear.
"I helped the American government and worked with them in a time of crises and put my life in danger," he said, noting that some of his colleagues were killed.
"Trump and his new administration let us down," Sharif said.
The family travelled to Cairo and they were preparing to fly to the US from there, but were barred from boarding their flight.
- No jobs, no school -
An employee at the airport gave the family their boarding cards, but later returned and said: "Just a minute, just a minute -- you are prohibited from travelling to the United States."
When asked why, the employee cited an "email from the American embassy in Baghdad warning us that you are prevented from travelling", Sharif said.
The next flight back to Arbil was not until the following morning, meaning that he, his wife and their three sons had to spend some 25 hours at Cairo airport before they could leave.
Now they are back in Iraq, staying at his brother-in-law's empty home and living off savings.
Before leaving, "I had to sell my belongings and resign from my work and my wife resigned from her work and my children left school," Sharif said.
"I am relying on the money I have to live... now I am without work and my wife is without work and the children are without schools."
Trump's travel restrictions -- coming as Iraq battles the Islamic State jihadist group which the president has repeatedly cast as a threat to America -- have sparked a growing backlash in Baghdad.
Iraq has called on the US to review the move, terming it a "wrong decision", and parliament voted Monday to back reciprocal restrictions on Americans if Washington does not change course.
But for now, Sharif and others are left in limbo.
"I sent a request to the American embassy in Baghdad" asking "what they advise me" to do, he said.
"Until now, I have not received a response."