Yassin al-Haj Saleh writes: Some American friends wanted me to visit in the summer to speak about a book of my essays on Syria and the Syrian revolution that is about to be published. The prospect of traveling to the United States made me uneasy. I had heard stories of Syrians being singled out for interrogation at American airports. And I wasn’t certain I would be able to get travel documents and an American visa anyway: Because of my political activities, I am a man without a passport. But then, after President Trump signed an executive order barring even Syrians with valid passports and visas from the United States, I knew I wouldn’t be able to visit my American friends any time soon.
Mr. Trump’s decision pronouncing Syrians dangerous and undesirable seemed quite similar to the way our own dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, has treated me and my countrymen. I have never had a passport. I was explicitly denied one by Mr. Assad’s regime because I am a writer who opposed his father and opposes him. In 1980, I was a 19-year-old student of medicine at the University of Aleppo when I joined the protests against the Hafez al-Assad regime. I was jailed along with hundreds of fellow left-wing students and activists. I spent 16 years in prison.
After my release in 1996, I returned to Aleppo and my medical studies. After graduating in 2000, I decided not to practice medicine, moved to Damascus and worked as a writer. In March 2011, Syrians rose up against the Bashar al-Assad regime. I decided to write without any self-censorship in support of the revolution. The cost of writing with freedom was that I had to leave my home in Damascus, hide in myriad places across the country, and eventually seek refuge in Turkey. To live in exile without a passport or travel documents is to live with the knowledge of limited mobility in a world of militarized bureaucracy.
The international disdain for Syrian refugees comes close to Mr. Assad’s approach to his ill-fated subjects. Most Syrians were never issued passports. For the Assad regime, passports are political and disciplinary tools.
For Syrians, Mr. Trump is merely pushing to extremes a process that has been going on for years. The situation of the refugees, and the underprivileged in general, has been worsening everywhere for a generation. Syria exemplifies a greater global failure. [Continue reading…]