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What Life Really Looks Like in the Countries Subject to the U.S. Travel Ban

By Sarah Buder

Jun 27, 2018

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Traditional Persian rugs for sale at the Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran.

Photo by Alexander Mazurkevich/Shutterstock

Traditional Persian rugs for sale at the Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran.

These photos and stories share a side of the seven nations that the ban doesn’t address—their humanity.

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The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban on Tuesday, a policy that dissenting justices argued is rooted in religious animus. To varying degrees, the ban restricts citizens from Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Venezuela, Yemen, and Syria from entering the United States.

The travel ban makes now the time to look more deeply at the seven affected countries, shattering myths in favor of a more nuanced view that goes beyond the political rhetoric. There’s no better way to understand a place—or dispel a misconception of it—than by seeing it through the eyes of people who know it well. That’s especially true of nations like these, which are difficult to travel to due to geopolitical upheaval and conflict.

You can start with some reading: Over the years we’ve covered an Iranian fashion designer challenging misconceptions about Islam, what real life looks like in the Middle East, the depths of Iranian hospitality, what it really means to be a refugee, an argument for traveling to North Korea, and a spontaneous journey to Venezuela.

For more from people on the ground in the countries subject to the U.S. travel ban, we’ve identified the following Instagram accounts run by locals using their own voices to show sides of these nations that you’re not seeing in the news right now. In the face of fear-mongering, reading the above stories and exploring the below accounts is, of course, no cure-all, but it’s a start.


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Photographer Mehran Mafi Bordbar, who was born in Qazvin, northwest of Tehran, travels the country photographing local people. His images show a side of Iran that only someone born and raised in the country could truly capture and an essence of the country not often portrayed in the media. The documentary photographer is a regular contributor to @everydaymiddleeast, an Instagram project that uses photography to challenge stereotypes that shape common understanding of the Middle East.

See more from @mehranmafibordbar.

North Korea

ormer chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press David Guttenfelder launched this contributor-based Instagram account with the intent of “opening a window to North Korea” and providing “a real and honest view of the country.” The account paints a detailed picture of what life really looks like in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with images taken by residents and photographers across the country. 

See more from @everydayDPRK.


Mustafa Saeed is a photographer and visual artist based in Somaliland, a self-declared state recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. His images display a nuanced representation of local life in Somalia by focusing not solely on the country’s conflict but instead on its lively population. 

See more from @themustafasaeed.


Libyan photographer Abdurrauf Ben Madi uses Instagram to share the daily street scenes he captures, from local sports fans celebrating after a team victory to a father and son enjoying a pop-up photography exhibit at a gallery in Libya’s capital. The Tripoli-born artist also contributes to @everydaymiddleeast and is the cofounder of a Libya-specific Instagram account, @dailylibya.

See more from @abdurrauf.ben.madi.


In recent years, media coverage has largely discussed Venezuela in context of the country’s economic collapse, but this local Instagrammer puts forth images of the country beyond its crisis. The photographs Marcelo Volpe shares—a group of locals gathering to sing in the streets, two men playing chess in a neighborhood shop—feel so universal that some could be mistaken for scenes captured anywhere else around the world . . . which might be the point. 

See more from @trincherarte.


Thana Faroq, a Yemen-born photographer currently based in the Netherlands, documents the realities of displaced Yemenis around the world. On her Instagram, you’ll find images from her previously exhibitioned projects including “Women in Yemen” and “Unseen Beauty—Yemen: Art in Times of Destruction,” which feature Faroq’s portrait photographs of Yemenis, both displaced and living in the country.

See more from @thanafaroq7.


Syria’s capital, Damascus, is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. This community-sourced Instagram account displays Damascus’s colorful sights and celebrates the city’s endless—and infrequently recognized—beauty. (The above image was taken by @unusualtraveler.)

See more from @beautifuldamascus.

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