Following his campaign promise to curtail immigration from Muslim countries, the US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27 by which he barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the US for at least the next 90 days. The executive order puts a bar on all people hailing from these countries – or at least 218 million people, based on 2015 data published by the World Bank – from coming to the country that once was known for its inclusiveness. Timing of Trump’s refugee ban is also like ‘tragic irony’ as it was signed on the day which happened to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban nationals from 7 Muslim majority countries entering the US has brought to the fore the role and influence of some of the forces that shape US foreign policy in the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region. With the exception of one country, the Trump list is similar to a purported list of 7 countries that the US, in 2001, had planned to attack in 5 years. But, due to unavoidable circumstances, the plans in this regard could not be executed. And, now Donald Trump has come forward to inflict miseries to the people of a region – mainly the countries that were named in a 2016 law concerning immigration visas as ‘countries of concern’ – that was devastated by the wars initiated and actively supported by his own country. According to Trump’s view, shadowy foreigners from the Middle East infiltrate the United States and its neighbourhoods and they are waiting for opportunities to kill the Americans. This is indiscriminate fear-mongering that is bad enough as campaign rhetoric. It’s outright harmful to innocent people when translated into White House policy.
The justification as contained in the order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is: “In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.”
On the face of it, this executive order fundamentally alters decades of bipartisan US practice with regard to foreign nationals. Since World War II, the US has accepted millions of refugees fleeing communism and totalitarianism around the world. And this policy should continue and rather than targeting the persecuted people, the US should accept humanitarian immigration. It is also important because right after the issuance of the order, there was chaos and confusion at the borders for people who had been legally eligible to enter the United States. For instance, an Iraqi man who had risked his life working as an interpreter for US troops was temporarily barred; students admitted to some of the finest US universities were prevented from starting school, and an Iranian scientist who had been awarded a fellowship to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard found that the visas for him and his wife had suddenly been suspended.
In addition, dual citizens and US permanent residents – usually called green card-holders–were also prevented from boarding flights to the US and even detained on arrival. Even some foreign nationals, who are legal US residents, were being prevented from returning to the US.
Although a federal judge granted a stay on such deportations – for people who arrived in the US with valid visas but were detained on entry – the injunction has provided a little relief as it is only a partial block to the broader executive order. And, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents continue defying the court orders.
Now let’s have a fleeting look at the ramifications that the ban of refugees will bring. Overall, Trump’s decision will have two wider effects.
First of all, it has put on the back burner the US-Australia refugee deal, which was struck between Malcolm Turnbull and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama in November 2016, to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, many of whom come from Iran, Iraq and Somalia, in the US in exchange for Australia accepting a group of Central American refugees. Although after a telephone conversation with Donald Trump, Malcolm Turnbull seems optimistic that the deal would still go ahead, yet one needs to remember that many of the Republican politicians were critical of the deal. Republican congressman Brian Babin seems confident that “[Trump] will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-US refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.
Secondly, the shutdown will have lasting and detrimental effects for refugees at a global level. In the Middle East, it may prove to be a boon to the Islamic State. The terrorist group has long sought to disrupt refugee movements.
The ban will also put more pressure on refugee-hosting countries. About 90 percent of the world’s refugees are in the developing world. The international refugee system works through burden-sharing: host countries know that at least some refugees will be resettled and that they will receive financial assistance for the refugees from the UNHCR and other organizations and governments.
Trump’s move challenges this directly, and will likely lead to further restrictions on the ability of refugees to receive basic protections.
Has Trump disregarded the Geneva Convention?
Who is a Refugee?
According to Article 1 of the Geneva Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who:
“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
With regard to refusing entry and sending people back, the law is also clear. Article 33 provides that:
“No contracting state shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
There is an exemption if there are reasonable grounds for believing the person poses a security risk to the country but, under the Convention, those reasons need clarification and justification to an appropriate legal standard. The US has lodged no valid reservations about the people barred from entry under this executive order so it is bound to follow the text as it stands.
The Convention must also be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin – a point reiterated by the UNHCR in its response to the executive order. Clearly prohibiting all refugees from Syria, or any other country, falls foul of that provision.
So Trump clearly disregarded the Geneva Convention in a number of ways.
What is an executive order?
Executive orders (EOs) are legally binding directives handed down by the president under the “executive power” authority laid out in the US Constitution. By definition, the EOs allow the White House to enact major policies without the consent of Congress. At last count, US presidents have collectively signed more than 13,000 executive orders—some praiseworthy, some not—that did everything from liberate all slaves in the Confederacy, to integrate the Armed Forces, to authorize the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Like all the others, history will be the judge of this one too.
What does this executive order actually say?
It’s called “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” and it runs more than 2,700 words. Simply put, Trump wants his national-security agencies to examine whether enough is being done to adequately screen certain immigrants, refugees and visitors before they arrive on US soil.
“Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States,” the order reads. “The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.”
This order temporarily suspends the flow of all refugees from every country—repeat: all refugees from every country—for 120 days. It also imposes a 90-day ban on all types of immigration from the group of seven: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Syria. And depending on what the evaluation concludes, those temporary suspensions could soon become permanent.
Following are statements issued by the leaders or responsible ministers of some important countries:
Iran: Iran will take reciprocal measures in order to safeguard the rights of its citizens until the time of the removal of the insulting restrictions of the government of the United States against Iranian nationals.
Iraq: It is necessary that the new American administration reconsider this wrong decision, and we affirm Iraq’s real desire to strengthen and develop the strategic partnership between the two countries and increase the prospects of cooperation in the counter-terrorism field and economic sphere and all (that) serves both countries’ interests.
Sudan: The Sudanese citizens living in the United States are known for their good reputation, respect for American laws, and their lack of involvement in radical and criminal acts. Washington should remove Sudan from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Yemen: The ban is not justified and it supports the terrorists and sows divisions among people. Attempts to classify Yemeni citizens as a probable source for terrorism were illegal and illegitimate.
Britain: We will protect the rights and freedoms of UK nationals home and abroad. Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality.
France: Welcoming refugees was a duty of solidarity. Terrorism doesn’t have a nationality; discrimination is not an answer.
Germany: The necessary and decisive fight against terrorism in no way justifies a general suspicion against people of certain beliefs, in this case people of the Muslim faith or from a certain origin. These actions are against the core idea of international aid for refugees and international cooperation.
Turkey: Islamophobia, which has been on the rise in the West, anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia have unfortunately contributed to this decision. Democratic countries and the international community should create a network for individuals involved in illegal and terrorist activities, and strengthen the international coalition against such individuals.
Australia: It is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.
Canada: Those fleeing persecution, terror and war were welcome in Canada.
Pakistan: It will increase the miseries of victims of terrorism. The worst sufferers of terrorism are Muslims, and they have given the most sacrifices against this scourge.