Each time Suriya Muse Iftin thought she was finally leaving an overcrowded Kenya refugee camp, her hopes were dashed.
Since January, she has twice packed up all of her belongings, bid farewell to her friends in the Kakuma refugee camp and traveled with her children to Nairobi for resettlement in the United States.
Twice she has had to tell her children they would not be going to America after all because of President Donald Trump’s order banning immigrants from certain countries.
“When I was told about the executive order I totally lost hope,” she said.
Iftin said she fled war-torn Somalia in 2005 after her father, brother and sister-in-law all were killed in front of her. She raised five children in Kakuma’s unforgiving conditions, including a daughter who has cerebral palsy.
Now the 49-year-old, sitting in a Nairobi transit center with her children, hopes her third try will be the lucky one. The family coaxed crocheted tablecloths and hand-embroidered pillowcases into overstuffed suitcases, eager to travel before the looming March 16 revised travel ban.
Then a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the ban on Wednesday afternoon, hours before it was set to take effect. The ruling, which applies nationwide, means that travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees for now will still be able to travel to the US.
For Iftin, it’s good news at last.
A priority case
Trump’s latest executive order labels Somalia as a high security risk along with Sudan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen, and bans people from those countries from entering the United States for 90 days.
The order also bans refugee enrollments for 120 days, and caps the number of refugees to be resettled in the United States at 50,000 — less than half the level under the Obama administration.
If allowed to take effect, it will leave tens of thousands of refugees who were hoping to come to the US waiting indefinitely in refugee camps around the world.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other facilitating organizations have prioritized medical cases, as well as those of unaccompanied minors and people with security issues.
Her daughter Asha’s cerebral palsy makes Iftin’s family a priority case, because the girl needs constant and specialized care.
“She’s a priority in that she had gone through the system and almost departed twice, while also having the needs of the children without having a spouse,” said Karl Baker, IOM’s deputy head of operations in Africa.
“But this just happens to be one case that we happen to have become familiar with,” he said. “Of course, there are thousands of cases like that.”
‘Life there is very tough’
Life in Kakuma was difficult with a child with cerebral palsy, Iftin said. The camp’s narrow and uneven terrain was ill-suited for her daughter Asha’s wheelchair, and she mostly carried her daughter on her back.
“It used to be very tough for me to feed Asha. The food they gave us she could not eat,” she said. “I had to go around to the neighbors requesting soft food so she could eat something.”
Located in the dry northwestern reaches of Kenya, Kakuma contains more than 150,000 refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries. Refugees are not supposed to work, and mostly depend on United Nations food rations.
“I don’t want to go back there,” Iftin said, wiping away tears. “The life there is very tough. There are very vulnerable people in the camps. Disabled people, elderly people, sickly people. Resettlement is the only hope they have.”
Iftin’s life as a refugee will likely soon be over, but the memories of war and the abuses she suffered will stay with her.
The family is to be resettled in Dallas, Texas, a place Iftin says she knows little about. But she hopes it will bring a better life for her children.
“I want them to go to school, (so) that one day they will be able to support themselves and me,” she said.
But thousands of others, stuck in limbo in refugee camps worldwide, will not be so lucky.