PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Syrian doctor says he won’t return to the United States to finish his studies at Brown University because of the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Khaled Almilaji said Wednesday there’s too much uncertainty, even though he possibly could get a student visa under the scaled-back version of the ban, which could go into effect as early as Thursday.
President Donald Trump first ordered a refugee and travel ban aimed at seven Muslim-majority nations, including Syria, shortly after taking office in January. After a federal judge struck it down, he issued a revised order, which was also blocked. The Supreme Court will take up the legality of the ban in October, and in the meantime said this week a limited version could go into effect.
Almilaji, 35, had gone to Turkey for a brief trip after the fall semester at Brown and was caught in travel limbo after Trump’s order. His pregnant wife remained in the U.S.
He chose to move to Canada this month to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. He had to decide whether to attend before the Supreme Court ruled on the ban.
Almilaji said it’s unfortunate he withdrew from Brown, but “bad things happen and you have to adapt.” He was reunited with his wife in Toronto and they are expecting a baby girl in August.
He’s still working with his mentors at the Ivy League school as he tries to reopen a large underground hospital for women and children in northwest Syria. He plans to get specialists at Brown to train hospital staff online and answer their questions about complicated cases.
Trump says the ban on visitors from six mostly Muslim countries is needed to protect the U.S. from terrorists.
Almilaji was recently awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Canadian representative of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Nothing really slows him down including Donald Trump, and including all the many other obstacles that arise along the way in doing this work,” said Dr. Adam Levine, who leads the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative at Brown.
Almilaji, a fellow with the initiative, coordinated a campaign that vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children and risked his life to provide medical care during the country’s civil war. He’s working with Canadian doctors to establish safe health facilities in Syria, train medical workers and connect hospitals. The group formed the Canadian International Medical Relief Organization.
The Supreme Court this week allowed a limited part of the ban to go forward, saying the administration could block travelers from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen unless they can prove a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. The court’s guidance said that a student admitted to study at an American university would fit that exception.
Almilaji travels to Turkey to oversee projects in Syria. He said he was told by lawyers that if he did return to the United States, it would be unwise to leave again. The uncertainty led him to choose to stay in Canada.
Almilaji has launched an advocacy and awareness campaign, Care4SyrianKids, with Brown classmates. When Syria is stable enough, he wants to return and work on preventing diseases and other health problems.