(Washington) – United States President Donald Trump has announced several policies that will cause tremendous harm to refugees and do little to address terrorism and other national security threats, Human Rights Watch said today.

Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015. 

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch
In an executive order signed on January 27, 2017, Trump announced he would suspend the US refugee program for at least 120 days and indefinitely for Syrian nationals; cut the total number of refugees of any nationality who can be resettled under the program to 50,000 in fiscal year 2017; and ban entry to the US of nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for at least 90 days, as well as nationals from a list of countries to be determined.

“Trump’s latest executive order is likely to hurt the people most in need: those fleeing violence and terrorism – and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less,” said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The decision to drastically curtail the refugee program will abandon tens of thousands to the risk of persecution or worse and cede American leadership on a vitally important issue.”

Trump’s executive order to suspend the refugee program and ban entry from a list of countries to be determined because these countries purportedly do not provide adequate information for security vetting disregards the fact that refugees identified for US resettlement are, by US statute, people for whom the US has found “a special humanitarian concern.” They have been thoroughly and extensively vetted and screened.

Refugees come from all over the world, from a diverse range of religious and economic backgrounds, but have in common that they are all fleeing persecution. Vetting procedures are already so vigorous that deserving refugees are often excluded. In fact, many refugees who have been admitted to the US, from Syria or elsewhere, are the victims of terrorism. At a time when there are more displaced people around the globe than at any time since the end of the Second World War, the Trump administration’s decision to drastically curtail the US refugee program abandons Washington’s leadership role on this issue. It also rejects longstanding bipartisan support for the resettlement program and undermines commitments to US allies such as Jordan and Kenya, who host hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Trump also suspended for 90 days the issuances of visas to all people – immigrants or nonimmigrants – seeking to enter the US who are nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen. The order directed the Department of Homeland Security to identify any other countries whose nationals should also be barred.

Such policies convey fear instead of courage and will send a message to leaders around the world that broad, discriminatory, and isolationist actions are acceptable

Grace Meng

senior US researcher

During his presidential campaign, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until the US government can “figure out what is going on.” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, his national security advisor, has called “Islamism” “a cancer” that has to be “excised,” while Mike Pompeo, CIA director, has publicly disparaged Muslim leaders, claiming wrongly that they have generally refused to speak out against attacks committed by Muslims.

Trump stated in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on January 27 that persecuted Christians would be given priority when applying for refugee status, and also claimed inaccurately that it was harder for Christians from Syria to enter the US than Muslims.

The order also directs the Secretary of State to prioritize admission of refugees claiming religion-based persecution “if the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

“Today’s executive order doesn’t bother to hide the religious animus that underpins it,” said Meng. “Such policies convey fear instead of courage and will send a message to leaders around the world that broad, discriminatory, and isolationist actions are acceptable.”