Leader of Syrian White Helmets Featured in Nominated Documentary Can't Attend Oscars

PHOTO: Syrian men and Civil Defense volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, evacuating a victim from a building following an air strike on the village of Maaret al-Numan, in the countrys northern province of Idlib, Dec. 4, 2016.PlayMohamed Al-Bakour/Getty Images
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The leader of the group of Syrian volunteers featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary "The White Helmets" says he won't be able to attend the Academy Awards later this month because of President Trump's travel ban.

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Raed Saleh, the leader of the Syria Civil Defense group, otherwise known as the White Helmets, and cinematographer Khaled Khateeb -- both Syrian nationals -- had planned to attend the ceremony with British producer Joanna Natasegara. The Netflix film is up for best documentary short.

Instead, he expressed his disappointment to Buzzfeed that he will not be there.

"A country’s greatness is measured not by its weapons or warplanes, but by how it helps those in times of desperate need," he told the website.

The roughly 3,000 White Helmets, a ragtag group of former bakers, tailors, salespeople, teachers, pharmacists, painters, carpenters and students, put their own lives at risk venturing into active battle zones to assist the sick and wounded in Syria's five-year civil war.

The real-life heroes were nominated for the Nobel Peace prize and received the Right Livelihood Award, often described as the "Alternative Nobel" last fall.

Saleh, who has traveled to the United States in the past to raise awareness about the group, worries that the ban will prevent him from sharing with the realities of the situation on the ground in Syria.

"We hope that these visits can continue so that we can continue to explain what is happening in Syria," he told Buzzfeed, "and to call for an end to the relentless bombing that is destroying so many innocent lives."

Natasegara, the producer, called the ban "horrifying."

"Donald Trump needs to watch this film," she told BuzzFeed. "He doesn’t understand. He himself has a lot to learn from the White Helmets."

Trump signed an executive order last week that bars nearly all travelers from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days.