Swiss International Air Lines says it will bar citizens of seven countries from boarding its flights to the United States because of US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning their entry.
Lorenzo Stoll, director-general of the airline's operations in French-speaking Switzerland, told Swiss public radio RTSexternal link on Saturday that Swiss, which is owned by Germany’s Lufthansa Group, has “a legal obligation to implement this decree”.
Trump’s executive order was one of a series of commands he issued during his first week as president to follow up on some of his campaign promises. It suspends admission of all refugees trying to enter the United States for 120 days, and prohibits for 90 days the entry of any citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries even if they have valid visas.
But during an emergency court hearing on Saturday night in Brooklyn, New York, a federal judge blocked the US government from deporting citizens of those seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen – who were detained at US airports over the past day due to Trump's executive order issued Friday.
US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly said it was hard to see the harm in letting these new immigrants stay, since they were routinely admitted only a few days ago.
Threat of fines
Along with Swiss, other airlines such as KLM, EgyptAir and Qatar Airways took action to conform by prohibiting access to the United States for citizens of the seven countries.
Companies that do not comply may have to repatriate the nationals from those countries at their own expense in addition to paying a fine.
"We are sorry to be put in this situation," said Stoll. The airline advised concerned passengers to contact the American embassy or consulate in the country where they are staying.
A research biologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFLexternal link) told of her disappointment at being prevented from boarding a plane bound for the US on Saturday due to her Iranian nationality.
Samira Asgari, who had a valid visa, was planning to join the Raychaudhuri Labexternal link at Harvard University in Boston, which studies the basis of autoimmune disease using techniques in human genetics, bioinformatics, and systems biology. Soumya Raychaudhuri, who runs the lab, told the WCVB5 TV station that Asgari had the proper J1 visa to work in the US and had already worked there several times.
Asgari said she and her boyfriend had quit their jobs in Switzerland, given up their apartment and sold their furniture. She was stopped while in transit at Frankfurt airport. “We were supposed to get our connecting flight but at the gate I was directed towards a man who wasn't from the airline. He said my visa wasn't valid, that he was sent on behalf of the United States and they could change their minds when they wanted,” she told Le Tribune de Genève.
She remains hopeful that she will be able to make it to the US. “I will still go of course, if I can. I used to see the US as an open country with many opportunities. This image has changed but there are still great universities and terrific people there.”
Already, refugees and migrants holding valid visas who were en route to the US earlier in the week were detained at US airports and restricted from entering the country due to Trump’s order.
Advocates said up to a couple hundred travellers from those Muslim-majority countries were being held at airports around the US in what Trump called a crackdown on terrorism.
The purpose of the decree is to weed out “radical Islamic terrorists”, Trump said, and priority for admission will be given to Christians.
Trump also ordered the construction of a US-Mexican border wall as part of his measures to curb undocumented immigration, saying it was all for Americans' protection.
The measures drew praise from Trump’s supporters but harsh condemnation from world leaders, many other Americans and others around the world.
International organisations that aid refugees, religious and civil rights advocates immediately criticised the move, while some including the Council on American-Islamic Relationsexternal link announced plans to file a lawsuit next week claiming Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional.