OTTAWA, 29 Jan 2017:

Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau yesterday welcomed those fleeing war and persecution – even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back US-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

A day after US president Donald Trump put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the US and temporarily barred travellers from the seven countries, Trudeau said in a tweet: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

A second pointed tweet, also timed to coincide with outrage over Trump’s immigration policy, included an archive photo of Trudeau welcoming a Syrian refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

Confusion abounded at airports around the world as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new US rules. The order would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks, Trump had said.

While Trudeau was tweeting a welcome to refugees, others on the social media platform were questioning whether immigration minister Ahmed Hussen – a Somali-Canadian refugee – would be able to travel to the US under the new rules. Hussen’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In Canada, WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the US yesterday to comply with an executive order signed by Trump on Friday.

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline would give full refunds to anyone affected by the order. It did not say which country the passenger had come from.

Stewart said WestJet had been informed by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) the ban did not apply to dual citizens who had passports from countries other than those covered by the ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“US CBP has confirmed it is the citizenship document they present to enter the country, not the country of where they were born,” Stewart wrote in an email.

In Vancouver, an employee at the American Airlines counter said one person travelling on an Iranian passport had been turned away Saturday morning.

Air Canada, the country’s other major airline, said it was complying with the order but did not comment on whether it had yet denied travel to any passengers.

“We are required to ensure passengers have the required documents for entry into, or transit the countries they are travelling to,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur. “In the case of these nationalities, they are not permitted to enter the US.”

A spokesman for Porter Airlines said the Toronto-based carrier will be restricting passengers from travelling to the US from the listed countries until further notice. Porter will waive fees for changing destinations and offer refunds for cancelled trips related to the advisory.

Trump’s most far reaching action since taking office plunged America’s immigration system into chaos – not only for refugees but for legal US residents, who were turned away at airports and feared being stranded outside the country.

Immigration lawyers and advocates worked through the night trying to help stranded travellers find a way back home. Lawyers in New York sued to block the order, saying many people have already been unlawfully detained, including an Iraqi who worked for the US Army in Iraq.

Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules, with some legal residents who were in the air when the order was issued detained at airports upon arrival.

“Imagine being put back on a 12-hour flight and the trauma and craziness of this whole thing,” said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston. “These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here.”

Thousands of refugees seeking entry were thrown into limbo. Melanie Nezer of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that works with refugees, said she knew of roughly 2,000 who were booked to come to the US next week.

“It’s not a Muslim ban,” Trump said yesterday after signing more executive orders in the Oval Office. He said such measures should have been in place for years.

The ban affects travellers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and extends to green card holders who are legal permanent residents of the US.

Arab travellers in the Middle East and North Africa said the order was humiliating and discriminatory. It drew widespread criticism from US western allies – including France and Germany, Arab-American groups and human rights organisations.

Iran condemned the order as an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation” and vowed to retaliate. Of the seven countries targeted, Iran sends the most visitors to the US each year – around 35,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Sudan called the action “very unfortunate” after Washington lifted sanctions on the country just weeks ago for cooperation on combating terrorism. A Yemeni official expressed dismay at the ban.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to clamp down on immigration as a way to prevent attacks. He first proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US, modifying that later to “extreme vetting” of immigrants from certain countries.

Friday’s action extends to green card holders who are authorised to live and work in the US, Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.

It was unclear how many legal permanent residents would be affected. A senior US administration official said yesterday green card holders from the seven affected countries have to be cleared into the US on a case-by-case basis.

According to State Department guidance, travellers who have dual nationality of one of these countries will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the US or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa.

The senior administration officials would not address legal challenges to the order and noted that nobody living overseas has a right to enter the US.

Legal residents of the US were plunged into despair at the prospect of being unable to return to the US or being separated from family members trapped abroad.

“I never thought something like this would happen in America,” said Mohammad Hossein Ziya, 33, who came to the US in 2011 after being forced to leave Iran for his political activities.

Ziya, who lives in Virginia, has a green card and planned to travel to Dubai next week to see his elderly father.

Saleh Taghvaeian, 36, teaches agricultural water management at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, said he feared his wife would not be able to return from Iran after a visit.

In Cairo, five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York yesterday, sources at Cairo airport said.

Dutch airline KLM said it had refused carriage to the US to seven passengers from predominately Muslim countries.

At least three lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project were at the arrivals lounge at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, buried in their laptops and conference calls, photocopies of individuals’ US visas on hand.

In Washington, the agencies charged with handling immigration and refugee issues grappled with how to interpret the measure. US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not consulted on the executive order and in some cases only learned the details as they were made public.

At the State Department, a senior official said lawyers were working closely with their counterparts at Homeland Security to interpret the executive order – which allows entry to people affected by the order when it is in the “national interest.”

However, a federal law enforcement official said, “It’s unclear at this point what the threshold of national interest is.”

Senior administration officials said it would have been “reckless” to broadcast details of the order in advance of new security measures. The officials told reporters Homeland Security now has guidance for airlines.

Since it was announced on Friday, enforcement of the order was spotty and disorganised.

Travellers were handled differently at different points of entry and immigration lawyers were advising clients to change their destination to the more lenient airports, said Houston immigration lawyer Yegani.

She said officials denied travellers with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship from boarding planes in Canada to the US.

The order seeks to prioritise refugees fleeing religious persecution. In a television interview, Trump said the measure was aimed at helping Christians in Syria.

Lawyers from immigration organisations and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of two Iraqi men, one a former US government worker and the other the husband of a former US security contractor.

The two men had visas to enter the US but were detained on Friday night at Kennedy airport, hours after Trump’s executive order, the lawsuit said. One of the men, former US Army interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was later released.

“I don’t think anyone is going to take this lying down,” said Cleveland immigration lawyer David Leopold. “This is the tip of the spear and more litigation is coming.”

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