Some provided rice and water to rebels. A kindergarten teacher in Afghanistan paid a bribe to the Taliban. A Sierra Leone woman had sex with her captors.

To the U.S. government, their actions raise the suspicion that they’re a threat to national security.

But an event tonight at Santa Clara University will tell a different story: They are desperate refugees from around the world — from Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Iraq and Tibet — caught in a conundrum called “material support,” a government label that deems them, in effect, supporters of terrorist groups and denies their entry into the United States as refugees.

Refugees and their advocates will read the stories of those who have fled their own countries after being forced — under threat of injury and death — by terror groups to serve as sexual slaves or pay bribes in countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The groups, some fighting for democracy in military-ruled regimes, have been designated terror groups by the Department of Homeland Security. . .

The provision in the USA Patriot Act of 2001 is meant to prevent terrorists and their supporters from entering the United States. But international refugee groups said that law, and its broad application by the government, has resulted in denying sanctuary to victims of terrorism such as the sister of Hashmatullah Rustam, a San Jose resident and a refugee from Afghanistan.

Rustam’s sister, Foziya Rustam, 32, a kindergarten teacher, paid a bribe to Taliban officials in order to flee the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan almost seven years ago.

Now Foziya Rustam, her two children and her husband have been stuck in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan for almost seven years, unable to join her brother in San Jose because, in effect, she and her family have been designated by DHS as supporters of a terrorist group. . .

“This reflects the status of human rights in our country,” said Abiya Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Council on American-Islamic Relations. “That law is leaving behind the victims of terrorism, the victims who are most at risk.”


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