Syrian Refugee Featured in Oscar-Nominated Film Cleared to Attend Ceremony Following Travel Ban
A Syrian refugee originally barred from entering the country to attend the Oscars following President Trump’s immigration ban has now obtained a visa to travel to the U.S. for the show, a spokesperson for the film confirms to PEOPLE.
Hala Kamil and her four children are the subjects of Best Documentary Short Subject nominee Watani: My Homeland, which follows the family as they make their way from war-torn Aleppo, Syria, to a Turkish refugee camp before finally settling in Germany. Kamil’s husband, Abu Ali, was kidnapped by ISIS in September 2013 and is presumed to be dead.
Now, over three years after the tragic disappearance of her husband, Kamil is attending the ceremony they used to enjoy watching together.
“When I heard that I might have the opportunity of attending the Oscars to represent Watani: My Homeland, I felt incredibly proud and happy but bittersweet,” Kamil says in a statement to PEOPLE. “The first thing that came to my mind was my husband and soul mate. Abu Ali and I would stay up late every year to watch the Oscars live on television. Sipping coffee together as we always did, we’d try to recall the names of all the famous actors and actresses as they graced the red carpet, in complete awe of this huge event.”
The mother of four adds that the thought of attending the ceremony years after last seeing her husband “brings tears to my eyes. But to be reminded of what I have lost is also a reminder of what I have held on to: my four children.”
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In August 2016, Hala and her children were honored at the World Humanitarian Day ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, where portions of the documentary were screened. Hala, with Quantico actress Yasmine Al Massri serving as her translator, gave a moving speech in the National Assembly Hall about the plight of refugees. Her four children joined her onstage afterward, and she received rousing standing ovations before and after she spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as I stand here for you today, my beloved Aleppo is burning,” she began in the speech. “275,000 men, women and children are under siege and two million are living in fear of besiegement. They cry out, but they are met with silence — the world does not hear them. Instead, the world hears the echoes of gunshots and explosions, tormented by images of arms-wielding terrorists killing in the name of Islam. Well, not in our name. Not in my name.”
In her statement to PEOPLE, Kamil also says coming to the United States will help her spread awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees.
“Traveling to the United States is a very important step forward for me, to have the opportunity to reach so many people with my message of peace, unity and understanding is so invaluable, and I’m so grateful to have this chance,” Kamil says. “I want to tell the world about a small country called Syria, a country that has been burnt alive, its people torn up from the soil they once thrived on. All this destruction and displacement needs the concerted effort of the whole world working together, to help these people back to their roots, the roots they hold so dear. All these people want is peace and the right to live.”
The Academy Awards kicks off live on ABC on Sunday, Feb. 26, with a 7 p.m. ET preshow and 8:30 p.m. ceremony.