UN chief urges US to remove travel ban on Muslim refugees, immigrants as soonest possible

Feb 2, 2017
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said The US travel ban "is not the way to best protect the US or any other country.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the US travel ban is not the way to best protect the US or any other Countries.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday, Feb 1, voiced serious concern over the negative impact of the latest US policy, which blocks entry of Muslim refugees into the North American country, saying that this measure “should be removed sooner rather than later”, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

In his response to recent US policy shift on longstanding refugee programme, Guterres told reporters here that resettlement is often “the only possible solution” for people fleeing conflict and persecution.

The Executive Order, signed by US president Donald Trump on Jan 27 bared all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for the next 90 days.

It also stops the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, indefinitely bans Syrian refugees, and halts the planned entry of more than 50,000 refugees in the US fiscal year 2017, which began in October 2016 and will end in September 2017.

The new policy shift led to strong protests in Washington DC and across more than 30 airports inside the United States and touched off strong criticism in the other parts of the world.

Asked about the impact of the Executive Order, the secretary-general said resettlement is “a must,” and “Syrians are those that at present have the most dramatic needs.”

The US travel ban “is not the way to best protect the US or any other country,” Guterres said.

The secretary-general made the remarks in response to a press question as he was briefing reporters on his travel to Ethiopia, where he attended an African Union summit.

In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday, Guterres commended African countries for opening their borders to refugees and people fleeing violence while other parts of the world, including the developed West, close boundaries and build walls.

“In my opinion, this is not the way to best protect the US or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that existed about the possibility of terrorist infiltration,” he said while briefing the reporters on his first Africa tour as the UN chief.

“I don’t think this is the effective way to do so.”

“What was lacking was a capacity to have a comprehensive approach to the problem,” he said of the US ban, adding that it is very important to review “the very dramatic situations the refugees are facing when they have no chance to reach protection.”

“And I think this measure should be removed sooner, rather than later,” the UN chief said.

On Tuesday, Jan 31, the secretary-general issued a statement via his spokesman, saying that refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are entitled to protection, and he expressed concern at decisions around the world that have undermined the integrity of the international refugee protection regime.

“Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are finding more and more borders closed and increasingly restricted access to the protection they need and are entitled to receive, according to international refugee law,” the statement said.

While acknowledging that countries have the right, even the obligation, to responsibly manage their borders to avoid infiltration by members of terrorist organisations, the UN chief said in the statement, adding that because the ban “is against the fundamental principles and values on which our societies are based.”

Noting that the measures “violate our basic principles,” the secretary-general said that they are not effective if the objective is to avoid terrorist entering the United States.

Also expressing concern that the new Executive Order is in breach of the country’s human rights commitments, a group of UN rights experts have called on the United States to live up to its human rights obligations and provide protection for those fleeing persecution and conflicts.

“Such an order is clearly discriminatory based on one’s nationality and leads to increased stigmatisation of Muslim communities,” said the UN special rapporteurs on migrant, Francois Crepeau; on racism, Mutuma Ruteere; on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson; on torture, Nils Melzer; and on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed, in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The US recent policy on immigration also risks people being returned, without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures, to places in which they risk being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in direct contravention of international humanitarian and human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” they warned.

Independent experts and special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world, to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation.

The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. Noting that “in the midst of the world’s greatest migration crisis since World War II, this is a significant setback for those who are obviously in need of international protection,” the rights experts said.

“The US must live up to its international obligations and provide protection for that fleeing persecution and conflicts.”

“The US is also involved in conflicts such as those in Iraq and Syria and its responsibility must extend to offering refuge to those fleeing from the conflicts,” they said.

According to a news release, the Executive Order also applies to those who come from the countries listed — whether or not they have valid visa documents or are in transit.

It also affects those who have dual nationality, who either have a passport from one of those countries or are travelling from one of those countries.

Furthermore, those currently residing in the US may be able to fly to the US but entry is not guaranteed.

“This is deeply troubling, and we are additionally concerned that such persons travelling to the US will be subject to detention for an undefined period of time and then ultimately deported,” they added. – Bernama