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Kurdistan’s Hopeful Youth Feel Further Isolated by Trump’s Ban on Iraqis

The following article was originally published in Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Smartly dressed and seemingly shaking everyone’s hand in a trendy café near the posh Italian Village in Erbil, Shivan Fazil felt abandoned on Friday when the new US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned people from entering the US from seven countries including Iraq.

The well-educated, multilingual 30-year-old Fazil who watches the latest English films and has visited many of the major cities in the United States and Europe thought that Trump’s ban made Iraq more of an isolated place.

“It feels very bad, very terrible because as an Iraqi, obviously, we are an isolated nation,” lamented Fazil, who has visited the United States twice — once for a short visit to the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, and then as a leadership fellow at the Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West in Hawaii.

While Trump cited “extreme-vetting” for his halt on visas, Fazil thought the process already in place is thorough.

“The visa process was fairly straightforward,” he said. “When you have enough evidence and proof you are going to the United States for a legitimate purpose … be it as a student scholar, work engagement, or a tourist … I had substantial proof that I was going for a legitimate purpose.”

Fazil, a media and communications specialist with a master’s degree from the University of Derby in England, had opportunities to remain in America.

“On both of my trips to the states, I could’ve stayed, but that wasn’t my incentive,” the native of Erbil said. “My objective was to improve my skills, my capacities, and utilizing my skills to learn to help my country progress by engaging my community from the bottom-up.”

Fazil was a teenager when US troops invaded Iraq and toppled its dictator Saddam Hussein. Monuments for the victims of Saddam’s Baathist Party’s brutality can be found across Kurdistan, so most Kurds celebrated what they call the liberation and many assisted Americans as translators and advisors.

In addition to looking back, Kurds, in the heart of the chaotic Middle East, have been carving out their own relatively peaceful and diverse region, where they welcome Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Yezidis of various ethnicities and sects to practice their beliefs.

“There are aspiring youths who are forward-looking, engaged, communicating and informed, but they won’t have the opportunities to nurture those talents and use them for the country,” Fazil said.

Kurdistan, with a population of about 5.5 million, has dealt with the influx of more than 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons, and a budget crisis further complicated by an ongoing war to kick ISIS out of Iraq, where the median age is just 21 years.

Fazil explained that this Kurdish generation just needs stability. And Trump’s order creates unease.

“That means for people like me and thousands and thousands of other peoples even fewer opportunities now,” he said speaking about the need for micro-financing and entrepreneurial programs. “They are engaged to the outer world through social media and present day information technologies; they want to further their abilities and capacities.”

The US state department currently facilitates exchange programs, educational opportunities and capacity building events with Iraqis. It is unclear if those will continue.

This article originally appeared in Rudaw.

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