NAIROBI— On Friday morning, Abdi Rizack received the news he had waited 20 years for. His application to be resettled in the United States had been accepted. His flight had been booked.
On Feb. 6, his itinerary said, he would be on his way to Columbus, Ohio. It was there on a document from the International Organization for Migration, next to the words “Port of Final Destination.”
“It was news that changed our lives. I gave up my heart to the U.S.,” he said.
Rizack, 32, did not know how to channel the excitement. Almost immediately, he began to pack his bags.
A few hours after he started celebrating, he received a different kind of news, this time on a television at the Kakuma refugee camp, where Rizack has been living since 2009, in a house made of sticks and a plastic tarp.
He saw an image of President Trump on the screen, and then a reporter spoke.
“He said they were banning Somalis,” Rizack recalled.
And so Rizack became one of countless people around the world whose lives were thrown into uncertainty this weekend by Trump’s executive order banning refugees, migrants and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
There was confusion at the camp. Would Rizack’s flight be canceled? No one seemed to know. He reached out to a friend who worked for the United Nations, who had no clear answer. Many humanitarian workers were distraught by the news.
“It has shut down the minds of my colleagues,” said one Kenyan working with a humanitarian group in Kakuma who asked not to be identified because he did not want to publicly criticize U.S. policy.
Rizack left Somalia in 1992, when he was 7 years old. His aunt, uncle and grandmother had been killed in the civil war there. Years later, the country remains unstable, with Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab waging frequent attacks. Interclan fighting remains another source of devastating violence.
Rizack’s family bounced between refugee camps in Kenya until finally landing in Kakuma. He watched many of his friends score resettlement in America — among the 90,000 Somalis admitted between 2001 and 2015, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
At times, it seemed like his chance would never come. But he still thought of America warmly. Much of the assistance he received in Kakuma, including monthly food rations, bore American flags. He had followed the U.S. election, mostly on the radio, and heard about the billionaire running for president. He did not think much about it.
“I must respect his policy as U.S. president,” he said he thought.
Then came the shock of Friday’s executive order.
“It’s discrimination, and everything we hear is that in the U.S., there is no discrimination,” he said by phone.
He tried to figure out what to do. Maybe his flight would still depart, he thought. Maybe this would all be resolved by then.
“I’ve grown up here in a refugee camp. I can’t stay here forever. What life is this for a young man?”