US reverses travel ban as Trump vows to overturn judge’s block

Citizens from countries affected by travel ban can fly to US again, says government

The US government said on Saturday that citizens of the seven mainly Muslim countries who were banned from the United States by Mr Trump could resume boarding US-bound flights.

The comments came after US president Donald Trump vowed to overturn a Seattle judge's blocking of his executive order to keep refugees and travellers from seven countries out of the United States on Saturday.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.

The federal judge in Seattle put a nationwide block on US president Donald Trump’s week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States.


The ruling gave hope to many travellers and sent some scrambling for tickets, worried that the newly opened window might not last long.

The travel ban, which Mr Trump says is needed to protect the United States against Islamist militants, has sparked travel chaos around the world and condemnation by rights groups who have called it racist and discriminatory.

“Interesting that certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban. They know if certain people are allowed in it’s death & destruction!” Mr Trump tweeted. “When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reasons of safety & security - big trouble!”

In the wake of Friday's ruling, Qatar Airways was the first to say it would allow passengers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to resume flying to US cities if they had valid documents.

Fellow Gulf carriers Etihad and Emirates said they would do the same, as did others including British Airways, Air France, Spain’s Iberia and Germany’s Lufthansa.

“I am very happy that we are going to travel today. Finally, we made it,” said Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented along with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago.

“We were right, we are legal. Even at that time, I was optimistic. I was sure that we were going to go. I didn’t surrender and I fought for my right and other people’s right,” he said.

The family was due to fly on Turkish Airlines later on Saturday from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, to Istanbul and then to New York, before starting a new life in Nashville, Tennessee.

Officials in Lebanon and Jordan, however, said they had received no new instructions regarding the January 27th travel ban.

A spokeswoman for budget airline Norwegian, which operates transatlantic flights including from London and Oslo, said the situation was “still very unclear”.

“Race against time”

Some travellers interviewed in Middle Eastern capitals were cautious about the news of Friday's ruling, which the White House said it planned to appeal as soon as possible.

Iraqi refugee Nizar al-Qassab said in Lebanon: “If it really has been frozen, I thank God, because my wife and children should have been in America by now.”

The 52-year-old said his family had been due to travel to the United States for resettlement on January 31st. The trip was cancelled two days before that, and he was now waiting for a phone call from UN officials overseeing their case. Two Sudanese travellers told Reuters they were trying to travel as soon as possible, fearing the ban might be reinstated. They declined to be named, for fear of possible consequences.

“I‘m in a race against time,” said a 31-year-old female academic who said international airlines were still refusing to sell her a ticket. “Now I am going from one airline company to another to convince them about the court’s decision.”

Visa suspensions

Mr Trump’s order caused chaos at airports across the United States last week. Virtually all refugees were also barred, upending the lives of thousands of people who had spent years seeking asylum in the US.

The US state department said on Friday that almost 60,000 visas were suspended following Mr Trump’s order. It was not clear whether that suspension was automatically revoked or what reception travellers with such visas might get at US airports.

The Washington state lawsuit was the first to test the broad constitutionality of Trump’s executive order. Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee, explicitly made his ruling apply across the country, while other judges in similar cases have so far issued orders concerning only specific individuals.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee celebrated the decision as a victory for the state, adding: “No person - not even the president - is above the law.”

The case was based on claims that the state had suffered harm from the travel ban, for example students and faculty at state-funded universities being stranded overseas. Amazon. com and Expedia, both based in Washington state, had supported the lawsuit, asserting that the travel restrictions harmed their businesses.

Tech companies, which rely on talent from around the world, have been increasingly outspoken in their opposition to the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

The White House said in a statement: “At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the president, which we believe is lawful and appropriate.”

It added: “The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people.”