I am a Somali-born Briton. If I leave New York to see my family in the UK, will I definitely be able to return?by Ismail Einashe / February 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
Read more: In April, Einashe wrote: “Theresa May’s plans will make millions of Britons second-class citizens”
As I write this, I’m stuck in limbo in New York City, afraid to travel to the UK for fear of not being able to return to the United States. I’m on a fellowship at Columbia University and have a multiple entry 10-year visa on my UK passport. But there is chaos following President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry to the US from seven mainly Muslim countries. One of them is Somalia, where I was born.
I have never been issued with a Somali passport. I was forced to flee that war-torn country when I was nine years old. I spent time as a refugee in Ethiopia before finally arriving in Britain. I am now a naturalised UK citizen working as a journalist. I had thought that my years of worrying at airports about my immigration status were over. But along with many others—including Somali-born, British Olympic gold medal winner Mo Farah, and Iraqi-born Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi—the Trump order abruptly cast my status into doubt.
Confusion has reigned since the beginning. A couple of days after the order was issued, the UK government breezily told us not to worry: as long as we are travelling from Britain, and not Somalia, there shouldn’t be an issue. But a day or two later, the US Embassy in London contradicted this advice on its website. Following pressure from the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the embassy refined its advice. In the days since, an American court in Seattle suspended the order, and the president took to Twitter to rage at the “so-called judge,” before appealing and losing again.
The latest court ruling sounds reassuring, but there is no way to be sure about the next appeal. Likewise, Johnson can charm the US embassy into cooling things down, but that provides no guarantees. How can I be sure if I return to London to see my family that I will then get back in to the US? Thickening the haze was the inconsistent way in which the ban was being implemented before it was suspended by a federal judge. Where you happened to land could be all-important—as could which border official…