Revived U.S. travel ban sows confusion, anger in Middle East

US Supreme Court building
US Supreme Court building

A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing partial implementation of President Donald Trump’s travel ban has stirred anger and confusion in parts of the Middle East, with would-be visitors worried about their travel plans and their futures.

The blanket 90-day ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – and a 120-day ban on all refugees was completely blocked by lower courts after Trump issued it on March 6, saying it was needed to prevent terrorism attacks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled the bans could proceed, though only for foreigners with no “bona fide relationship” with an American entity or person, and it did not specify what that meant. The ruling left some in the Middle East wondering if they would be able to enter the United States.

“It’s a big disappointment for me,” said a 52-year-old Sudanese man in the capital Khartoum, who believed he would now be rejected for a visa to visit relatives in the United States.

The man, who declined to be identified, said he wouldn’t know the outcome until at least Sunday, when the U.S. Embassy opens again after a string of national holidays.

“I’ve traveled to America before and I don’t know why I’m prevented from traveling (now). I didn’t violate American law during my previous visits,” he told Reuters.

At the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, where there is normally a queue out the door of people waiting to process visa applications, a Reuters reporter saw few people.

Middle East airlines have yet to receive a directive from the United States following the ruling, industry sources told Reuters on Wednesday. The sources said U.S. flights would continue to operate as normal until guidance is received.

Major airlines based in the region include Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.

Iranian nationals attempting to get visas at the U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara – Washington does not have an embassy in Iran – also expressed concern.

“What is the reason behind this law? It’s all very unclear,” said Masoud, a 28-year-old engineer who was applying for a student visa after being accepted into a doctoral program at a university in Dallas, Texas. “This is not fair.”

Nearby, another Iranian national, 27-year-old Nima, also said he was hoping to get a visa to pursue an advanced degree in the United States.

“I just hope that I can get my visa soon and on time,” he told Reuters. “We don’t know anything about where this may lead, but I wish they would extract Iran from this country list.”