The head of the USAID-funded project Syria’s Civil Defense Units (also known as the White Helmets) likely thought that it was going to be smooth sailing into the United States to receive a humanitarian award from InterAction, a D.C.-based NGO.
However, after flying nearly half a day from Istanbul to Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C., 33-year-old Raed Saleh was told that his visa was canceled.
“When I arrived in Washington, DC, they told me my visa had already been canceled so I should go back to Turkey ‘where I came from,'” Saleh told Business Insider.
Saleh said that he believed his visa was valid until September 2016, and he had not been notified by any entity that it had been canceled. He added that he even had a letter from USAID to facilitate his entry into the U.S. to no avail.
According to Business Insider, Saleh has been “organizing peaceful demonstrations in his hometown of Jisr Ashughour, Syria, after protests broke out against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.” Saleh was later “forced to flee to Turkey” after Assad’s army arrived, but later returned “where he has organized 20 separate teams of civil defense volunteers since June 2013.”
The White Helmets is a group of more than 2,800 civilians that respond to bombings in Syria, digging people out of the rubble and chaos. So far, reports claim that volunteers have saved over 40,000 people with their efforts.
“InterAction has continually warned of the consequences of policies that prevent humanitarian professionals from freely traveling, as any other modern global professional must to be effective,” InterAction CEO Sam Worthington said in a statement about the visa.
“If the US government won't allow Raed to be honored in person by the humanitarian community in Washington then InterAction leaders will travel to Raed, on the border of Syria, to ensure his work is appropriately and personally acknowledged.”
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