Palestinian student at Harvard allowed US entry on second attempt

Palestinian student at Harvard allowed US entry on second attempt

A Palestinian student and incoming Harvard University freshmanhas been allowed into theUnited States on the second attempt, less than two weeks after he was blocked from entering the country.

Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old refugee, was “deemed inadmissable” by US immigration officials when he arrived at Boston airport last month and sent back to his home in Lebanon.

The teenager, who said he was questioned and searched for hours before his visa was revoked, arrived on campus in time for the start of classes on Tuesday, Harvard’s spokesperson Rachael Dane told Al Jazeera.

Ajjawi is among 54 Palestinians who were awarded the Hope Fund undergraduate scholarship by US non-profit Amideast to study in various US institutions this year.

“Ismail arrived at Boston Logan International Airport this afternoon, was admitted, and is now in Cambridge,” Amideast said in a statement on Monday. 

“Amideast is pleased and gratified that Ismail Ajjawi has been able to enter the US in time to begin his undergraduate programme at Harvard University on the generous scholarship that this institution awarded him in recognition of his stellar academic qualifications,” the US non-profit added.

On his first attempt to the enter the US on August 23, Ajjawi said he spent eight hours at the airport, during which he was questioned by immigration officials about his religious practices and friends’ anti-US social media posts. His phone and laptop were also searched, he said. 


“She [the officer] called me into a room and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friends list,” he told the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

The US embassy in Beirut reviewed his case and reissued his visa, according to Amideast.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) called him a “beacon of hope” for hundreds of thousands of young Palestinians.

His family thanked officials in Lebanon and the US for their support in resolving the issue. 

“The last 10 days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support and particularly the work of Amideast,” Ajjawi’s family said in a statement shared by Harvard with Al Jazeera.

“We hope now that everyone can respect our and Ismail’s privacy and he can now simply focus on settling into college and his important class work.”

‘Beacon of hope’

Ajjawi grew up in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. He graduated from the Deir Yassin High School, which is run by UNRWA in the city of Tyre. 

He aims to study physical and chemical biology at Harvard and pursue a career in medicine, according to UNRWA and Amideast. 

News of Ajjawi’s dismissal sparked outrage, with thousands signing a petition to demand his safe entry into the US. 

Elsa Auerbach, member of advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, told Al Jazeera that Ajjawi’s case was “one more act of aggression by the current US administration”.

Since his election in 2016, US President Donald Trump has maintained a tough stance on immigration. 

In 2018, more than 37,000 visa applications to the US were rejected because of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, up from less than 1,000 the previous year when the restrictions had not fully taken effect.

In June, the US State Department announced new visa rules requiring nearly all new applicants to submit five years’ worth of social media details.

Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz

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