Last night, three hours after landing in Minneapolis from London, Yassmin Abdel-Magied was turned away by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Sudanese Australian engineer, broadcaster, and writer was traveling to New York to speak at two panels for the PEN World Voices Festival, which kicks off Monday, April 16. One of Abdel-Magied’s scheduled events, titled “The M Word: No Country for Young Muslim Women,” aimed to discuss the lives of Muslim women forced out of their countries. Last year, Abdel-Magied became the victim of vicious attacks by the Australian press after she defended Islam as “the most feminist religion,” and posted about countries still in conflict on Australia’s day of remembrance, Anzac Day. The backlash from the incident helped force her move to London.
Abdel-Magied tweeted out last night, “They’ve taken my phone, cancelled my visa and are deporting me.” In another tweet, she mentioned an immigration officer was holding her passport. She says she has traveled to the U.S. with this visa for similar purposes before, but Border Patrol told BuzzFeed News that she did not have the appropriate visa for speaking engagements.
They’ve taken my phone, cancelled my visa and are deporting me. Will follow up on messages once I understand what’s going on. https://t.co/uT61v8cZXG
— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 11, 2018
“During the inspection, CBP officers determined this individual did not possess the appropriate visa to receive monetary compensation for the speaking engagements she had planned during her visit to the United States,” a USBP spokesperson said. “As such, she was deemed inadmissible to enter the United States for her visit, but was allowed to withdraw her application for admission. The traveler is eligible to reapply for a visa for future visits.”
The incident is ironic in light of the festival’s mission to foster a global community of writers. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement last night:
“We are dismayed that an invited guest to our annual PEN World Voices Festival in New York, which starts on Monday, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, herself the founder of an organization called Youth Without Borders, was turned away by U.S. Immigration officials in Minneapolis, reportedly had her phone and passport seized, and was put back on a plane to Amsterdam. Abdel-Magied is an advocate of the rights of Muslim women and refugees and is a citizen of Australia, traveling on that country’s passport. The very purpose of the PEN World Voices Festival, founded after 9-11 to sustain the connectedness between the U.S. and the wider world, is in jeopardy at a time when efforts at visa bans and tightened immigration restrictions threaten to choke off vital channels of dialogue that are protected under the First Amendment right to receive and impart information through in-person cultural exchange. We understand that Yassmin was traveling on a type of visa that she had used in the past for similar trips without issue. We call on Customs and Border Patrol to admit her to the U.S. so that she can take her rightful place in the urgent international conversation to take place at the festival next week.”
— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
Abdel-Magied tweeted out early this morning that she is now back in London. In the tweet she says, “I am now seeking advice and working to resolve this issue as soon as possible. I appreciate the interest and concern and look forward to future travels to the United States.”