A community in caution: How new attempt at travel ban hit Cleveland Somalis

Words by: Alec Slovenec, Alex Kamczyc

The back wall of Kifaya’s Kitchen is decorated with welcoming flowers.

On the west side of Cleveland in a small strip mall lies a vibrant and bustling hole in the wall. Guests are greeted with an overwhelming aroma of curry and various other spices. Some of the walls are decorated with flowers, others are left bare. A large Somali flag hangs next to the kitchen. Here, Kifaya Mohamed has made a home for herself, her family and her fellow Somali Clevelanders.

They may not ever be able to share this home, however, with their family back in Somalia due to a new version of President Trump’s travel ban, aptly titled Travel Ban 3.0. The executive order was originally signed back on January 27, 2017 and has been an ongoing debate ever since.

Mohamed and her family are members of Cleveland’s fairly large Muslim community. The Daily Beast ranked Cleveland having the eleventh largest Muslim population in the country, home to 15 mosques and 11 halal restaurants as of 2010. Muslims make up an estimated 0.8 percent of Cleveland’s population, many of which have immigrated from countries that are currently banned from travel here.

Kifaya Mohamed comments on how Cleveland has provided safety to her and her family:

The Mohameds, like many others in their community, are refugees. In the early 2000s, Mohamed and her family left their home in Somalia and moved to Yemen in search of work. Times only became tougher when  Mohamed’s husband passed away in 2004. In November of 2008, Mohamed and her seven children moved to America in “very cold weather” said Kifaya’s daughter Amina Mohamed. When the family first arrived in Cleveland, Kifaya Mohamed soon began working at a local Arabic restaurant. One of Mohamed’s sons bought her a restaurant in 2013 as a gift, which soon became Kifaya’s Kitchen.

The restaurant is frequented by many other Muslim refugees. Nadia Hebeb, a close friend of Mohamed, frequently visits the restaurant. Hebeb is originally from Sudan, but moved to the United States with her husband looking for work. She has lived in the US for about 20 years with her six children.

The Mohameds affiliate with Cleveland’s Somali Bantu Community Center. Run by Idiris Mohamed, unrelated to Kifaya, the community center works with local Somali immigrants in Cleveland, helping them adjust to an American lifestyle. The community center serves as a place where refugees can mingle with fellow Somalis while practicing speaking English.

“We do a registration and see how many people are in the Cleveland area,” said Idiris Mohamed. “We make sure we know all the Somalis, and we know that if they need any help , we can help them.”

Currently, the community center has over 300 Cleveland Somalis on record.

Idiris Mohamed was 16 when he left Somalia in 2004 with his older brother, leaving behind his mother and the rest of his family. Since then, he has become a U.S. citizen and made a family in Cleveland with his wife and five children. As a refugee himself, he expresses sympathy for fellow Somalis and the issues they face.

“As you know, all the Somali families are refugees, and when they come to US, they are facing a lot of challenges,” said Mohamed. “The culture, the language; there are a whole lot of things that came up. Me and some of the others sit together and think how we can help better these communities. We are here to help them. Not only them, but all of the refugees.”

The new version of the Trump travel ban sets a 180 day travel ban on  countries including: Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela.  The Trump administration has also capped the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year at 45,000 the lowest it’s been. The ban also freezes refugee resettlement programs for the entire duration of the ban.

When traveling to the United States, the majority of refugees leave most of their family behind, and Kifaya Mohamed is no exception.  However, with travel from these countries restricted and unstable, and also due to financial reasons, her family has been unable to visit her in the U.S. And due to political unrest in Yemen, Mohamed has not been able to visit them either.

“All my sisters and my brothers are in Yemen,” said Mohamed.  “When there is no war, yes. But I can’t come back now. I wish my family could come here,”

Idiris Mohamed has also been separated from his family. His mother is in a refugee camp in Kenya, and he has several family members still in Somalia. As someone who works closely with Somali refugees, Mohamed was disheartened by the travel ban.

“We feel sad about that. It’s a really horrible thing to hear. But you know, there is nothing we can really do about it,” said Mohamed. “We are planning, and we will just keep talking to the government and see if they can lift that ban, but there is nothing really we can do, it’s a government issue.”

The ban was implemented in the hopes that it would protect America against foreign against like ISIS that plan to cause harm to its citizens. However, many critics have pointed out that the countries affected by the ban have not been participants in any terrorist activities and that this ban could actually put us at more risk. In a statement given by Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, he condemns the current ban saying:

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security admitted that nationals from the targeted countries are rarely involved in anti-American terrorist activity.  It is too easy for this ban to be used as a recruitment tool for ISIS and other extremist groups to spread distrust of the United States, playing into their false narrative that we are at war with Islam.  This will make Americans less safe, not more.”

Idiris Mohamed recognizes that while safety is an important issue, most refugees are harmless.

“There are a whole lot of innocent people that try, a lot of kids trying to get education, there are a whole lot of things you can’t even imagine,” said Mohamed. “It’s not good to punish the other innocent people for something that isn’t their fault.”

Amina Mohamed believes that Islamophobia has become common over the past year. She has witnessed Islamophobia firsthand; Last year, a man yelled “F*** Muslims” at her and her sister while eating at a restaurant. Many of her friends have had similar encounters.

“I see on my Facebook Muslims getting their hijabs pulled off or get cussed out or get removed from stores,” said Amina Mohamed. “It’s very sad.”

This travel ban affects a lot of residence in Ohio and many activists and politicians have been extremely vocal in speaking out against the ban to ensure their safety.

“The executive order makes it harder to extend the hand of friendship to the brave local interpreters and their families who risk their lives to work alongside our armed forces in the Middle East, discouraging them from aiding our troops in the future.” said Ryan in his statement. “It denies bright, driven students the opportunity to study at our universities and contribute to new research that could benefit Americans and the world.”

This is President Trump’s third attempt at imposing a travel ban that would prevent countries with predominantly Muslim citizens from entering the country. While the new order could mean some people will no longer be able to enter the country, it is currently being held up in the courts.  A current lawsuit in the fourth circuit appeals court against Trump by the International Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) has just reached an outcome deeming the new ban unconstitutional, following suit with several other appeals courts across the country with the same conclusion.

Despite an unsettling political climate, the Mohameds and their fellow Cleveland refugees look forward to the future. Idiris Mohamed has plans to implement classes at the community center in order to help Somali immigrants adjust to American language and culture. He also wants to establish an online presence and create a website for the community center. Kifaya Mohamed plans to keep herself busy with maintaining the restaurant, and Amina, now in high school, is looking at colleges.

Kifaya’s friend Nadia Hebeb plans to raise the rest of her six children and help them get married, have children, and find jobs in America. When they become independent, Hebeb plans to return to Sudan.

“My brother and my sister are there,” said Hebeb. “I like it here too. I’m 48, I lived in my country for 28 years. I’ve been here for 20. I love America and I love Sudan.”

Kifaya Mohamed (left) standing in the doorway of her kitchen with her daughter, Amina Mohamed (right).

    

                                                                  

Ohio is a diverse community of people from all over the globe. This chart shows how many people have immigrated from each continent to Ohio. Statistics from the Migration Policy Institute’s 2016 census.

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