TORONTO — A Toronto-based Syrian children’s choir turned down an opportunity to perform at an international festival, its founder says, due to fears about crossing the American border under the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Fei Tang, general manager of the Nai Kids Choir, 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.
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 Hayda.
The Canadian Press