Confusion over Trump's new Muslim travel ban

  • 29/06/2017
Donald Trump
Donald Trump. Photo credit: Getty

A Supreme Court decision allowing partial implementation of President Donald Trump's travel ban has stirred anger and confusion in parts of the Middle East, with would-be visitors worried about their travel plans and their futures.

The blanket 90-day ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - and a 120-day ban on all refugees was completely blocked by lower courts after Trump issued it on March 6, saying it was needed to prevent terrorism attacks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled the bans could proceed, though only for foreigners with no "bona fide relationship" with an American entity or person, and it did not specify what that meant. The ruling left some in the Middle East wondering if they would be able to enter the United States.

"It's a big disappointment for me," said a 52-year-old Sudanese man in the capital Khartoum, who believed he would now be rejected for a visa to visit relatives in the United States.

The man, who declined to be identified, said he wouldn't know the outcome until at least Sunday, when the US Embassy opens again after a string of national holidays.

"I've travelled to America before and I don't know why I'm prevented from travelling. I didn't violate American law during my previous visits," he said.

At the US Consulate in Dubai, where there is normally a queue out the door of people waiting to process visa applications, few people were seen.

Middle East airlines have yet to receive a directive from the United States following the ruling, industry sources told Reuters on Wednesday. The sources said US flights would continue to operate as normal until guidance is received.

Major airlines based in the region include Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.

Changes to laptop ban

Meanwhile, Homeland Security officials will unveil enhanced security measures for foreign flights arriving in the US, in a bid to avoid an expansion of an in-cabin ban on laptops and other large electronic devices because they might carry bombs, sources briefed on the matter said.

The decision not to impose new restrictions on laptops is a boost to US airlines, which have worried that an expansion of the ban to Europe or other locations could cause significant logistical problems and deter some travel. Airlines that failed to satisfy new security requirements could still face future in-cabin electronics restrictions, sources said.

A European airline industry official told Reuters earlier this month that the US had suggested enhancements including explosive trace detection screening, increased vetting of airports' staff and additional detection dogs. European and US officials have held talks for months on expanded security measures.

The US imposed restrictions on laptops in March on flights originating at 10 airports in eight countries that include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey. They came amid fears that a concealed bomb could be installed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft. Britain quickly followed suit with a similar set of restrictions.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said last week that authorities want to take the 10 airports off the restrictions list "by simply doing the kind of things that we're talking about here in terms of raising aviation security."

Homeland security officials plan to announce that those airports can get off the list if they meet the new security requirements.

Mr Kelly, who is speaking in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, said he planned a "step by step" security enhancement plan that included short, medium-term and longer term improvements that would take at least a year to completely implement.

He said last week that airlines must take this issue seriously.

"The threat is very real," he said.