UPDATE: See our Q&A with Yassine Aber here.
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The University of Sherbrooke’s Yassine Aber, 19, was on his way to Boston for a track and field competition on Thursday before being turned away at the United States-Canada border. According to CBC News, Aber, who is of Moroccan descent but born in Canada, was questioned for upwards of five hours and had his phone searched.
The kinesiology student, who was travelling with members of the Vert et Or (Sherbrooke’s team name), was asked numerous questions by border guards before giving up his phone and the accompanying passcode. The incident occurred at the border crossing in Stanstead, Que. as the team was travelling south for this weekend’s David Hemery Valentine Indoor Invitational at Boston University. According to Aber, his Canadian passport remains valid until 2026.
“The Vert & Or will be without Yassine Aber, who was denied access to the United States yesterday at the customs post of Stanstead,” the team wrote on Facebook. “Our best thoughts are with Yassine and the team and its coach Luc Lafrance in this difficult situation.” It’s common for Canadian universities to travel to the United States for competitions, especially in the winter months. Aber was travelling with five athletes and a coach at the time, all of who were allowed entry to the United States via Vermont.
He was asked questions regarding his faith, his Moroccan roots and any other countries he has visited. Though he was asked specifics, Aber says that “I do not think it’s my race or my religion” referring to why he refused entry at the border.
CBC News reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials found a Facebook photo with Aber and Samir Halilovic, a former Sherbrooke student who is believed to have left Canada to “join Islamist fighters” in 2014. The photo was from four years ago and Aber says he doesn’t know Halilovic well.
Short CBC interview
Full CBC interview
“‘Do you go to the mosque?’ I said, ‘Yes, sometimes.’ They said, ‘How often? Which mosque do you go to?’ They asked me about specific people,” Aber said, according to CBC News. He was not given exact details on why he was denied entry to the United States other than, according to Aber, he did not have “papers, a passport or an immigration visa that was valid.” Aber said his passport was valid but was not given any further information.
The U.S.-Canada border denial on Thursday comes weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order limiting entry to visitors from certain countries, Morocco not included. An appeals court has suspended that decision, according to BBC News. The BBC adds that Trump is “considering a new executive order to ban citizens of certain countries.”
Aber’s case is the fifth believed instance of a Canadian with Moroccan roots being denied entry to the United States recently. He says he is worried about the prospect of travelling back to the United States for future competitions and training camps.
Earlier this month, two high-profiled runners, Mo Farah and Mo Ahmed, spoke out in regards to Donald Trump’s travel ban that targets visitors from seven predominately-Muslim countries. Canadian Running has reached out to both the coach of Sherbrooke and Aber.