Leading Australian Muslim activist barred from entering the US

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Yassmin Abdel-Magied, the award winning author and one Australia’s leading female Muslim activists, was barred from entering the US immediately after she landed in the country.

The 27-year-old was set to speak at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York next week.

But after touching down in Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon, the author who is a fierce critic of Australia’s immigration policies, said she was detained by border agents.  

“I’m currently at the border and they’ve said I’m being deported,” the Australian-Sudanese author tweeted. “This should be fun. What are my rights?

“Interesting facts: within a few min of looking at my case the border security person – Officer Herberg looking at my case she announces: ‘we’re sending you back!’”

US authorities said Ms Abdel-Magied was denied entry because they determined she was being paid to speak at the conference which is a violation of her visitor’s visa.

The activist, who live-tweeted her fleeting stay on American land, claims the agents informed her they had cancelled her visa and required her to return to London where she currently resides.

“They’ve taken my phone, cancelled my visa and are deporting me. Will follow up on messages once I understand what’s going on,” she said.

Ms Abdel-Magied was scheduled to speak on a panel at the festival titled “The M Word: No Country for Young Muslim women”. 

Three hours after touching down in Minneapolis she found herself on a plane heading home. 

“Well, guess that tightening of immigration laws business is working, despite my Australian passport. We’re taking off now. What a time,” she tweeted.

She claimed authorities still had her passport when she boarded the aeroplane back home. 

“Apparently I can’t be trusted with it until I’m in a foreign country because, as Officer Blees said, ‘planes get turned away back way too often’,” she wrote. 

She added: “Oh yuh and did I mention they took my phone for the whole time? Fortunately, I’m a paranoid person – notifications don’t show previews of messages and a 12 digit passcode. Always be vigilant, yo.”

A spokesperson from the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said: “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.”

Ms Abdel-Magied, who was born in Sudan, received a wide-reaching backlash after writing a Facebook post on Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance for members of Australia and New Zealand’s armed forces, which suggested that her countrymen should remember the suffering in Syria and Palestine. She also highlighted the plight of refugees on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru where Australia holds asylum seekers in refugee processing centres. 

Politicians and other critics accused her of politicising the day and she later removed the post.

“It was brought to my attention that my last post was disrespectful and for that, I apologise unreservedly,” she wrote at the time.

The writer subsequently moved to London. She said she felt betrayed by Australia and branded herself the country’s “most publicly hated Muslim.”

Ms Abdel-Magied, who trained as a mechanical engineer, founded the Youth Without Borders organisation.  In 2007 she was named young Australian Muslim of the year. 

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said she was “dismayed” that her guest had been refused entry and would no longer be able to speak at the festival. 

She said Ms Abdel-Magied was “an advocate of the rights of Muslim women and refugees and is a citizen of Australia, travelling on that country’s passport.”

She added: “The very purpose of the PEN World Voices Festival, founded after 9/11 to sustain the connectedness between the US 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,” she added.

“We call on Customs and Border Patrol to admit her to the US so that she can take her rightful place in the urgent international conversation to take place at the Festival next week”.