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Syria’s ‘White Helmets’ Rescue Workers Obtain Visas to Attend Academy Awards

Trump’s travel ban raised questions about whether they could enter the U.S.

Rescue workers depicted in Syria’s Oscar-nominated documentary “White Helmets” have obtained U.S. visas and will now be able to attend the Academy Awards on Feb. 26.

Although Raed Saleh, leader of the group, and cinematographer Khaled Khatib, received their visas Friday, the film’s producer Joanna Natasegara said they “remain cautious about the physical part of entering the country.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled that Raed and Khaled are going to be able to join us at the Oscars ceremony,” Natasegara and director Orlando von Einsiedel of “The White Helmets” told TheWrap in a statement.

“It is such a great opportunity for them to use the platform of the awards to talk about their life-saving work and the suffering of Syrian civilians. It’s also important that the voices of Syrian heroes like them are heard at this moment to help send a message of inter-cultural understanding and solidarity in the current climate. We still remain nervous about their trip, though, and until they are safely on US soil we won’t be celebrating.”

Donald Trump’s now suspended executive order banning foreign nationals from a select number of countries — including Syria — had put into question if the subjects of the documentary would be prevented from entering the U.S. for the ceremony.

“We have always said that if we were to be nominated, we would bring Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, who has spoken many times in D.C., and Khaled Khateeb, the young cinematographer who risked his life over and over again, as our guests,” producer Joanna Natasegara said when the ban was put in place. “They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — these people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

The film follows members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, a civilian group that rushes to provide aid when bombs fall or a civilian neighborhood is attacked. They have been credited with saving upwards of 75,000 lives while risking their own during bloody battles of Syrian civilians under attack by the Assad government, ISIS and the Russian military.

Von Einsiedel and Natasegara were also Oscar-nominated two years ago for their feature documentary “Virunga.”

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