President Trump’s temporary travel ban and promised “extreme vetting” of seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees means the difference between life and death for people like 38-year-old Somalian, Momina Hassan Aden, whose resettlement has been indefinitely put on hold. Widower and mother of seven, she had spent the last four years at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, and recently had a blood transfusion. Her medical condition, which is unknown, calls for medical treatment in the US.
She is weak and at risk of being sent back to the overpopulated camp in northwestern Kenya. There, she would start from zero to wait for a card that entitles her and her family to food rations. “There’s not enough health care for me there,” she said in a brief interview at the Nairobi transit center, according to The Washington Post.
Aden is not the only one whose health has been compromised by the ban.
As a matter of fact, hers is one of 2,000 cases in sub-Saharan Africa that are deemed “most vulnerable,” according to the Church World Service. These are the candidates with critical medical conditions, as well as the survivors of physical and psychological trauma.
On Monday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that as many as 20,000 refugees in precarious conditions would be banned from traveling to the US under the 120-day suspension that was announced Friday. Syrians, meanwhile, have been banned indefinitely.
“These are very, very ill patients,” Pamela Paulk, president of Johns Hopkins Medicine International (JHI), told STAT. “In most cases, these are not cases to be postponed.”
JHI is one of the several leading medical centers who were preparing to receive over 30 patients in dire condition from the affected countries. Most cases, which are time-sensitive, were to be seen within the next 90 days.
“It’s always health care they can’t get in their country,” said Paulk, who was attending a medical conference in the United Arab Emirates, as reported by Stat. “They’re just not able to do the same things we can do in the US.”
These health problems require extremely challenging intervention. Neurosurgery, complex spine surgery, and bone marrow transplants are just a few of the procedures that are called for.
Against all odds, organizations like Doctors Without Borders have said that they will continue to try to provide care to displaced people. They, along with the Church World Service, religious leaders, and countless others, have denounced the suspension and have called for it to be lifted.
“When you’re talking about a 9-year-old with congenital heart problems, a [delay of a] day is too long,” said Sarah Krause, the senior director of Church World Service’s immigration and refugee program. “It is unnecessary for these individuals to die while waiting for resettlement.”
From another angle, the ban has serious implications for the future of the US’s medical community.
The 2016 Main Residency Match found that 21 percent of international medical graduates were not US citizens. Although there is no data on the country of origin of US doctors, a report by ECFMG and the National Resident Matching Program found that in 2013 alone 753 applicants were from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, or Syria.
40 percent of them were matched into a US-based residency program.
For Suha Abushamma, 26-year-old doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, it was a race against time. Originally from Sudan, Abusshamma is an H-1B visa holder. Her flight landed from Saudi Arabia right after the executive order.
Hours later, according to ProPublica, she was sent back after facing three options: withdrawing her visa, voluntarily leaving, or facing deportation. Despite the fact that the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse was proceeding with her her hearing, Abushamma was denied the possibility of delaying her flight.
“I’m only in this country to be a doctor, to work and to help people — that’s it,” she told ProPublica. “There’s no other reason.”
The ban has raised concern within the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians that represent medical doctors across the country. As reported by CNN, the association wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday that asked for clarification on the visa ban.
A part of the letter read: “it is vitally important that this process does not impact patient access to timely medical treatment or restrict physicians and international medical graduates (IMGs) who have been granted visas to train, practice in the United States.”
Those seeking refuge in the US, those in dire need of medical attention, share the very same concerns about security and safety that Americans have. They themselves have faced the unimaginable: war, disease, oppression, persecution, and terrorism.
“Refugees are mothers and fathers and children who want what we all want: a safe place to live their lives, free from war and persecution,” said Jason Cone, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders. “They are refugees because of forces beyond their control.”
For decades, the US has been a leader in refugee protection, a tradition ingrained in the professed values of the American people. Values like generosity, tolerance, and perseverance.
American writer and historian James Truslow Adams popularized the phrase “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America as: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability and achievement.” His father was born in Caracas, Venezuela.
For now, any shred of that dream has become unattainable for the world’s most vulnerable. It’s especially distance for the 9-year-old Somali child in Ethiopia with congenital heart disease. He, and countless others, will have to wait.