News & Politics

UN Says Trump's Revised Travel Ban Will Worsen Plight of Refugees

High commissioner says refugees are not criminals as some affected Muslim-majority countries express disappointment.

A woman carries her baby near the gate of a Greek-Macedonian border crossing near the Greek village of Idomeni, on March 6, 2016.
Photo Credit: AFP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff

Donald Trump’s revised travel ban will increase the woes of the world’s refugees, the United Nations has said, as some of the Muslim-majority countries affected by the ban expressed their disappointment, insisting they had fully cooperated with US anti-terrorist efforts.

The executive order blocks entry to the US for citizens from six of the seven countries named in Trump’s original order – Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya – for a period of 90 days and suspends the US refugee programme for 120 days.

The UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said refugees were not criminals but “ordinary people forced to flee war, violence and persecution in their home countries”. The secretary general, António Guterres, pointedly made an emergency visit to Somalia, saying people were dying in the country due to famine.

But overall the reaction to the reordered ban was more muted than the outrage at the chaotic announcement of Trump’s original executive order on 27 January.

The subdued response is partly because it was widely expected, delivered with less fanfare and at least will not be implemented for a week, ensuring air passengers will not be thrown off planes just before takeoff in a repeat of the desperate scenes that accompanied the first ban.

On Tuesday, 6 Sudanese refugees in Cairo were permitted to travel to New York.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said it was disappointed with the revised executive order. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said Tehran would wait and see the details of the new executive order and “would react in proportion”.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister says Iran’s “retaliatory decision” over Trump’s initial travel ban is still in place.Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted the deputy foreign minister, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, saying the measures Iranimplemented after the original ban on entry for US citizens were still in force and there was no need for a new decision.

Libya, currently gripped by renewed fighting to control its oil terminals, put out no fresh statement regarding the new executive order.

The revised ban now excludes Iraq, a country alongside which the US is currently fighting to defeat Islamic State in Mosul. The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, was advised not to take reciprocal action against Trump’s original order, despite significant pressure from the Iraq parliament to do so, and his self-restraint – and lobbying – appears to have paid off.

Some other small changes also make it less vulnerable to legal challenges. The new order clarifies that permanent residents, existing visa holders, people already admitted as refugees or granted asylum, and dual citizens can enter the US.

But Grandi said the UN remained concerned. “The imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects,” he said.

“Americans have long played a crucial role in promoting global stability while simultaneously exemplifying the highest humanitarian ideals, from support for refugee emergencies overseas, to welcoming some of the most vulnerable refugee families in the United States to rebuild their lives in safety, freedom and dignity,” he said.

“This is the gold standard in refugee protection and a powerful model for all countries that, at a time of record-high levels of forced human displacement, this kind of humane leadership is needed more than ever.”

The largest concentration of refugees directly affected are likely to be nearly 15,000 Somalis in a Kenyan refugee camp who fled their war-torn country and hoped to resettle in the US.

The Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who met Guterres in Mogadishu, called for the US ban to be lifted and insisted his country had the capacity to fight terrorism.

The main Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, remain exempt from the ban. Saudi Arabia, which is seeking better relations with Trump on issues such as Syria and Yemen, said very little about the ban when it was first announced and continued its policy of discretion on Tuesday.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation last month criticised the earlier order describing it as “selective and discriminatory”. The OIC said it was of the view that the ban will further complicate the grave situation that refugees find themselves.

In Britain the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, described the ban as a retrograde step for the US despite what she called “some cosmetic changes” in its revised version.

“By abdicating its responsibilities under international law, the administration continues to send a terrible message to the rest of the world on the refugee crisis,” she said. “While it remains to be seen whether or not this new executive order will stand up in court, nothing in this announcement changes the fact that these measures are unnecessary, divisive and wrong.”

The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the deal would not affect the US commitment to take refugees from the Manus Island and Nauru refugee centres.

 

Patrick Wintour is diplomatic editor for the Guardian.

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