Here they remained for three days, with a dwindling supply of food and water. As dawn broke on the fourth day they made a run for it, dodging gunfire. "Bullets were hitting close to their feet as they ran," their mother, Fatima, a green card holder, told Amnesty crisis interviewers. "Luckily they were not injured."
Yemen has been locked in a brutal civil war since 2015
, the conflict claiming at least 10,000 lives, according to UN figures.
Fatima -- whose name has been changed along with her sons' for their protection -- hoped that her sons would join her in New York, where she lives. In November, almost two years after the brothers, now age 18 and 20, applied to come to the United States, they had an interview at the US Embassy in Djibouti, where they are stranded. The interview went well and they were hopeful their long wait to be reunited with their family would soon come to an end.
Now, a revised executive order has been issued by the White House.
With the stroke of a pen
, the President banned Yemenis like Yahia and Maher from entering the United States. He also effectively shut America's door to anyone -- including refugees -- from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
These six countries have two main things in common: They are predominantly Muslim, and many of their citizens are trying to seek asylum abroad to escape serious human rights violations like persecution, indiscriminate bombings and torture.
By narrowing slightly the scope of the new executive order, the Trump administration may have remedied some of its predecessor's constitutional flaws, but it remains blatantly discriminatory.
Thinly disguised as a national security measure, the ban reinstates many of the most repellent elements of the original.
President Trump, while on the campaign trail in 2015, publicly suggested banning all Muslims from traveling to the United States. In the face of a noisy backlash and perhaps on the advice of lawyers, he scaled back the scope of this first proposed ban and shifted his language from targeting Muslims to targeting specific countries.
The reason for this shift was a calculated one. As he explained on NBC in July 2016: "People were so upset when I used the word Muslim," he said
. "Oh, you can't use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I'm OK with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim."
His attempts to disguise the xenophobic intent behind the ban did not fool federal district and appeals court judges, who found his national security justifications unconvincing.
Indeed, the idea that refugees pose a greater risk of committing acts of terrorism than anyone else is false. A refugee is not someone who commits acts of terrorism; a refugee is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism.
Up until recently, the United States clearly recognized this fact. Set up in 1980, America's Refugee Admissions Program has overseen the successful resettlement of more than 3 million refugees. It has been a beacon of hope to some of the most vulnerable people around the world.
By dimming that beacon, this executive order plays directly into the hands of those who portray the US government as being at war with Islam.
Reports earlier this month suggest members of ISIS were referring to the previous executive order as the "blessed ban"
because it will enable them to galvanize anti-US sentiment.
The Trump administration's intent is to create a policy that will withstand legal scrutiny. Rather than curbing the excesses of the first travel ban, the revised version shows a xenophobic policy toward Muslims that is mutating, virus-like, into an ever more resilient strain. And like a virus, its effects cannot be easily contained.
Life for Yahia and Maher, friendless and unemployed in an unfamiliar land, is hard. "My sons are feeling absolutely helpless and lost," says Fatima, who herself no longer feels secure in the United States. "These decisions made by President Trump have left us in a state of constant fear. We feel like suspects even though we've never done anything wrong in our lives."
It is up to us all to challenge everything this ban represents. Around the world, people are expressing their opposition to it and on Tuesday, Amnesty International is holding a national day of action. Across the country, Americans of all faiths and backgrounds will come together to demand that Congress reject this travel ban and restore hope for refugees like Yahia and Maher who are seeking respite and sanctuary from war.