Toronto Star: Toronto-based Syrian children’s choir won’t attend festival over fears about U.S. travel

By The Canadian Press

Sat., June 23, 2018

A Toronto-based Syrian children’s choir will not be travelling to the United States to perform at an international festival due to fears about crossing the border under the Trump administration’s travel ban, its founder said Saturday.

Fei Tang, general manager of the Nai Kids Choir at CultureLink, says a chorus of about 60 Canadian newcomers between the ages five and 15 declined an invitation to perform at the Serenade! Choral Festival in Washington, D.C., next week.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to the Nai Syrian Children's Choir - also called the Nai Kids Choir - after they performed before the Canadian House of Commons in December 2016. "Nai" means "the sound of the flute" in Arabic.  (ADAM SCOTTI / HANDOUT PHOTO)

Members of the Nai Children's Choir perform. The choir has turned down an opportunity to perform at an international festival in Washington D.C. due to concerns about the Trump Administration’s travel ban.  (IRENE BARTON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to the Nai Syrian Children's Choir - also called the Nai Kids Choir - after they performed before the Canadian House of Commons in December 2016. "Nai" means "the sound of the flute" in Arabic.  (ADAM SCOTTI / HANDOUT PHOTO)

Members of the Nai Children's Choir perform. The choir has turned down an opportunity to perform at an international festival in Washington D.C. due to concerns about the Trump Administration’s travel ban.  (IRENE BARTON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to the Nai Syrian Children's Choir - also called the Nai Kids Choir - after they performed before the Canadian House of Commons in December 2016. "Nai" means "the sound of the flute" in Arabic.  (ADAM SCOTTI / HANDOUT PHOTO)

Tang says most of the choir members immigrated to Canada within the last two years, and some parents worried that travel documents from their home country would raise red flags under a U.S. policy that bans travellers from five majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travellers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

Tang says the choir is meant to be a therapeutic way for the children to learn Canada’s official languages through song, and she didn’t want to risk re-traumatizing them if U.S. officials denied them entry.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hadeel Abou Ishmes says her two children are heartbroken about not being able to share their songs with choirs from around the world.

Tang says she worked with festival organizers to arrange for a pre-recorded video of the choir’s performance to be shown at Washington’s Kennedy Center on July 1 while the kids gather in Toronto to watch a livestream of the event.

She says the choir will also perform a Canada Day concert at the Aga Khan Museum where they will be joined by Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar.

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