Somali students from Augsburg College refused visas by Egyptian governmentby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
The Egyptian government has refused to let two Somali students from Augsburg College in Minneapolis travel to Egypt for a study-abroad program. The students were scheduled to leave for Cairo last Sunday, but Egyptian officials declined to grant them their tourist visas.
It's unclear why the students were denied travel. The decision comes at a time when many Somali-Americans are facing heightened scrutiny while traveling abroad as part of an ongoing terror investigation.
St. Paul, Minn. — Mohamed Adam and Leyla Mire would have been the first Somali students at Augsburg College to study abroad. The school even secured scholarship money to help pay for their trips.
But their visa applications hit a snag last week when the documents didn't arrive. Augsburg officials called the Egyptian consulate in Chicago to speed up the process.
On Sunday, Adam and Mire went to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with the rest of their class, hoping they could fly to Cairo and receive a special visa after arriving. They're not U.S. citizens, so they rely on refugee travel documents that are similar to passports.
At the ticket counter, Delta-Northwest employees told the two students that they couldn't board the plane without the visas.
Neither student wanted to talk on tape for this story.
Mohamed Adam said he's still trying to figure out why the Egyptian government doesn't want him in the country. He said he would like to think it has nothing to do with the ongoing U.S. investigation into a possible terror link between the Twin Cities and his home country, but he's still grasping for answers. The FBI is investigating whether about a dozen young men from Minnesota are fighting with an extremist group in Somalia.
Leah Spinosa de Vega runs Augsburg's study-abroad program. She says she feels heartbroken.
"We're really disappointed, saddened -- and angered, too," Spinosa de Vega said. "It's not fair they didn't get to go. They're not a threat to security for anyone. They deserve to have this opportunity. They did everything they could to make it happen, and so did we. [But] Egypt said, 'No.'"
Spinosa de Vega said the Egyptian consul in Chicago personally called her Monday to apologize and deliver the news. He didn't offer a reason for the rejection, but said that officials in Cairo needed to do a security clearance before approving the students' visas.
The consulate in Chicago did not return a message requesting an interview for this story.
But a third Somali Augsburg College student, who recently became a U.S. citizen, was able to travel to Cairo for the study-abroad program. In all, about two dozen students and faculty members signed up for the three-week trip, which overlaps with President Obama's visit in early June. The students who made it to Egypt will receive two class credits for their trip.
This week, Mohamed Adam would have given a presentation to his peers on an Egyptian synagogue that he researched in depth ahead of time. Instead, the college senior said he'll try to find a job, save money, and maybe plan a trip somewhere else.
- Morning Edition, 05/21/2009, 7:45 a.m.