A rally Sunday in opposition to President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travelers from seven Middle Eastern countries raised the spirits of Omaha’s refugees.
About 1,800 protesters gathered to listen to speakers, wave homemade banners and get information about ways to fight the ban. Chants such as “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” rumbled through Turner Park. A similar rally was held in Lincoln on Sunday.
The large showing for Omaha’s “Stop the Ban Rally” heartened Feroz Mohmand, 31, an Afghan native who said his 7-year-old son was crying inconsolably Saturday night when he heard about restrictions on travel from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The boy feared that he and his family would somehow be forced to leave the country they love.
“In a country like Afghanistan, we never knew if we’d make it home at night,” Mohmand said. “We had all this hope coming to the United States. Then we hear that because someone doesn’t like our religion, they don’t want us.”
Mohmand, speaking to the crowd, said that his wife was the youngest women ever elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament. He had been an aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The couple and their child fled Afghanistan in 2013 after hard-liners smeared them as CIA spies and secret Christians, he said. They had less than 24 hours to leave after they endangered their own lives by warning U.S. officials of a possible plot to kill Americans.
“No one wants to be become a refugee. It’s not a choice,” he said. “When it’s your turn, you become a refugee.”
The family found a welcoming community in Omaha, Mohmand said. Much different from the threats he received one day at a San Diego gas station when he was cursed and called a terrorist.
“I didn’t want to come to Nebraska at first, but I was wrong,” he said, getting a roar from the crowd.
Ferial Pearson, an instructor in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Education, came to the U.S. from Kenya. She echoed Mohmand’s comment that no one wants to be a refugee as she read the crowd a poem, “Home,” by British-Somali poet Warsan Shire.
The poem says in part, “I want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark, home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore.”
Opposition to Trump’s executive order took root Saturday in Omaha as it has across the country, according to protest organizers Susan Nielsen, Kristin Mattson and Angie Philips. The three women organized last week’s Women’s March in Omaha and said they knew they had to do something to rally people when they heard of the ban.
“We’re hoping to send a strong message not only to our (political) representatives in Washington but also to the White House,” Nielsen said. “We won’t stand for the ban.”
Former Rep. Brad Ashford and Douglas County Board member Mike Boyle and his wife, Anne, all Democrats, lent their support at the rally.
The travel ban hits home for the Boyle family. Their son-in-law, a native of Iran, works for Google in San Francisco.
“He’s been here since he was 7 when his family had to leave because the shah was overthrown,” Mike Boyle said. “Now Google is telling its employees not to leave to see their families because they won’t be let back in.”
As a congressman, Ashford said he learned from U.S. military leaders and foreign heads of state in the Middle East that baning Muslim refugees “is the worst possible strategy we could adopt” because it hands a propaganda tool to terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaida.
“King Abdullah of Jordan, one of the best friends the United States has, said unequivocally that a ban on Muslims would be harmful,” Ashford said. “He’s coming to the U.S. next week, and I hope he can change some minds.”