In August 2014, the only Yazidi woman in the Iraqi parliament broke down in tears while pleading publicly for the world to save her people from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State. She was due to travel to Washington next week to be honored for her role as a leading human rights activist. But now, along with millions of other innocent people, she is caught up in the Trump administration’s immigration ban.
Vian Dakhil was set to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 8. The prize is given by the foundation named after the late Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who championed human rights for decades while serving in the U.S. Congress. Dakhil’s case is a startling example of how the executive order signed by President Trump is having unintended consequences and ensnaring not only those who have no links to terrorism but also those who have risked their lives to fight terrorism in cooperation with the United States.
“It adds a deep level of irony that this award is given in the name of my late father, the only Holocaust survivor ever to be elected to Congress,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, the president of the foundation. “He exemplified how America is strengthened and enriched by immigrants and refugees. I assure you he is turning in his grave at this.”
The foundation has been in touch with the State Department to ask that Dakhil receive an exemption to the immigration ban, which temporary suspends entry for any national from seven countries, including Iraq. Dakhil and her sister, who serves as her translator, already have U.S. government-approved visas, but they are likely no longer valid.
The State Department has not been able to give the foundation any assurance or guidance about whether Dakhil or her sister will be able to come to Washington to receive the award.
“The case of Vian Dakhil is incredibly illustrative of how ill conceived this executive order is,” said Swett. “This undermines our security because we desperately need to partner with people like Vian Dakhil not only to aid her humanitarian mission but also to find partners to help fight ISIS.”
In 2014, three days after Dakhil addressed the Iraqi parliament about the plight of Iraqi Yazidis, President Barack Obama authorized targeted airstrikes and a corresponding humanitarian mission to aid thousands of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said at the time. “We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.”
One week later, Dakhil was injured in a helicopter crash during a mission to deliver humanitarian aid to Yazidis trapped in a siege by the Islamic State.
She has received awards in London, Dubai, Vienna and Geneva for her human rights work. Now, because of Trump’s executive order, the one place she may not be able to travel to be honored is the United States.
Swett compared Dakhil’s situation to that of other human rights champions who have been prevented from traveling to receive their awards, such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Liu Xiaobo and Andrei Sakharov.
“Here we have a truly strange and alternate world where this brave courageous parliamentarian was given permission by her government,” she said. “The wall is being put up not by a Chinese or Russian dictatorship, but unconscionably by the American government, the shining city on the hill.”