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Married Couple Affected By Muslim Travel Ban, Pandemic Constraints

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Travel restrictions in this pandemic have kept thousands of couples apart around the world. One of them is an Indian-American math teacher and a Syrian-Kurdish web developer. They haven't seen each other in six months. And this is not the first ban they have faced. Here's Joanna Kakissis.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Aysha Shedbalkar and Rezan Al Ibrahim met four years ago at a refugee camp in northern Greece. She was spending her school breaks volunteering at the camp. He was stranded there with his mom and brothers. He loved her kindness. She admired his sense of joy.

AYSHA SHEDBALKAR: I think within, like, a week of talking to him, like, he was my guy. Like (laughter) when we were just friends, I think I knew that I - this is the guy. I don't know of a more perfect guy than this guy.

KAKISSIS: At the end of the year the night before she left Greece, they had tea at her house. He thought about proposing.

REZAN AL IBRAHIM: I was in love - already in love with her. When she was making the tea and I was looking at her, and I was like, OK, this woman is just amazing. And I can't - like, I can't live without her.

KAKISSIS: He called her in Chicago and told her he loved her. She said she loved him, too.

AL IBRAHIM: That day was my best day. I was just so happy, you know? I was, like, so happy.

KAKISSIS: They got engaged in January 2017, the same month President Trump banned citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

AL IBRAHIM: The law shouldn't do this. The law should protect people who want to be together. Like, we are not doing a crime or something, so the law will be against that. You're just separating people from each other, you know?

KAKISSIS: She visited him in Greece and later in the Netherlands where the U.N.'s refugee agency relocated him as part of a European Union asylum program. She hoped the Supreme Court would strike down Trump's ban in June 2018, but the court did not.

SHEDBALKAR: We were devastated. That dream that I had of having my husband and maybe some kids and a house and, like, all this stuff were, like, inside of a coffin. And that - the last nail had been nailed into that coffin.

KAKISSIS: The couple did not give up. They got married last March in Sweden where his family now lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Vocalizing).

KAKISSIS: Her family flew in from the U.S. for the traditional Indian Islamic wedding with some Syrian touches.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUREFIRE")

JOHN LEGEND: (Singing) Can you just stay through the night?

KAKISSIS: And they danced to their favorite song, John Legend's "Surefire." It's about love overcoming the odds. This March, she was planning to fly to Amsterdam for their one-year anniversary.

SHEDBALKAR: When COVID happened, I think a lot of people felt in some way how we have been feeling for almost four years of our life, you know?

KAKISSIS: She's finally on her way to see her husband today. The Netherlands loosened restrictions for couples. And he says he'll be waiting with flowers and another chance to dance to their favorite song. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUREFIRE")

LEGEND: (Singing) I may not know a lot... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.