JOHANNESBURG – Hundreds of Yemenis with U.S. visas are stranded in the tiny African state of Djibouti because of President Donald Trump's ban on entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, an American lawyer there said Wednesday.
"These are all children, parents and the spouses of U.S. citizens," lawyer Julie Goldberg told The Associated Press, emphasizing that those stranded are not refugees. They received visas last week, she said.
More than half of the 200-plus Yemenis are children, including a 3-year-old whose parents are permanent residents in the U.S. and has never seen her father in person, said Goldberg, an immigration lawyer.
She has obtained a court order dated Tuesday from the U.S. District Court in California's central district instructing the U.S. government to not enforce Trump's executive order and allow the Yemenis to fly to the United States.
The court order calls on the U.S. government to not cancel "validly obtained and issued immigrant visas" and to return passports containing those visas so people can travel to the U.S.
Goldberg is now seeking an airline that will comply with the court order.
"It's super frustrating," she said of the Yemenis' plight. "They're running out of money. Djibouti is very expensive. They can't go back to Yemen, they would be killed."
Yemen has been engulfed in conflict since 2014. A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, has been carrying out an air campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for nearly two years. Djibouti and Yemen lie on opposite sides of the narrow Bab al-Mandab — Arabic for "the gates of grief" — straits at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Mohamed Mosleh Jeran is one of the Yemenis waiting in Djibouti. After his family's home was blown up in Yemen's conflict, he and his wife and two young children spent two years in Djibouti. Last month, the younger son died during what should have been a routine surgery. On Thursday, the family received their U.S. visas and looked forward to joining Jeran's father, a U.S. citizen, in New York City. Jeran has been accepted to the University of Toledo to begin a masters' program, said Goldberg.
But on Saturday, they were turned away at the Turkish Airlines check-in counter, Goldberg said. A spokesman for the airline did not respond to a call for comment Wednesday.
"Finally I am leaving Djibouti, but in my heart I was upset, I lost one of my kids," Jeran recalled to the AP. "But what can you do. This is life. I was happy my wife and son were leaving Djibouti, finally." But when they were turned away, "my wife, she was like a child, crying, my son, too.'"
In the United States, Esam Molhi and his wife, both green card holders, now fear leaving for Djibouti to reunite with their 3-year-old daughter because Trump's order might keep them from returning home. The girl was born in Yemen, and the U.S. Embassy there refused to let her fly with her mother to join Molhi in the U.S., Goldberg said. The family has been pursuing a U.S. visa for her since then.
The child is staying in a rented room in Djibouti with her Yemeni grandfather, Molhi told the AP from his home in San Francisco. He has not yet seen her in person, and his wife has not seen her since she was a month and a half old, said Molhi, who works as an Uber driver.
The U.S. Embassy in Djibouti has posted an urgent notice online telling people, including those with dual nationalities, from the seven countries affected — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — to not schedule visa appointments or even attend existing visa appointments.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.