Trump orders suspension of US refugee programme

8:17 pm on 28 January 2017

President Donald Trump has banned the entry of Syrian refugees into the US until further notice, as part of new measures to "keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the US".

Syrian residents fleeing the eastern part of Aleppo walk through a street in Masaken Hanano, a former rebel-held district which was retaken by the regime forces last week, on November 30, 2016.

Men, women and children flee the eastern part of the Syrian city of Aleppo, which is among areas devastated by the country's civil war. Photo: AFP

He signed a wide-ranging executive order, which also saw all refugee admissions suspended for four months.

Entry of visitors from six other mainly Muslim countries to the US has also been halted for three months.

Human rights groups and high profile figures have condemned the move.

Mr Trump signed the executive order at the Pentagon after a ceremony to swear in Gen James Mattis as defence secretary.

During the ceremony, he said: "I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people."

The text of the order was released several hours after it was signed. Among the measures are:

However, a mention of creating "safe zones" within Syria, seen in an earlier draft, was removed from the final order.

The order also said all immigration programmes should include questions to "evaluate the applicant's likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society".

In a TV interview broadcast earlier on Friday (Saturday NZT), the president said Christians would be given priority among Syrians who apply for refugee status in the future.

Other measures include a broad review of the information required from all countries to approve a visa; a review of visa schemes between nations to ensure they are "truly reciprocal" for US citizens; and the immediate suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Programme.

A sign directs travellers to a security checkpoint staffed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois in June 2015.

A file photo of a security checkpoint: Mr Trump also ordered the suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Programme. Photo: AFP

But the document says exceptions to most restrictions could be made on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Trump also signed an executive order aimed at rebuilding the military by "developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform".

Last year, the administration of then-President Barack Obama admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US. Neighbouring Canada - whose population is a ninth of that of the US - took in 35,000.

During the presidential campaign, Mr Trump suggested a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on".

But he has made no mention of this since being elected last November.

Accusations of 'Muslim ban'

The signing of the executive order has been met with criticism from rights organisations, Democrats and notable figures.

Democratic Senator Kamala Harris wrote that the order had been signed on Holocaust Memorial Day. "Make no mistake - this is a Muslim ban," she wrote.

"During the Holocaust, we failed to let refugees like Anne Frank into our country. We can't let history repeat itself," she said.

And New York's mayor, Bill de Blasio, said he was profoundly "profoundly saddened" and the president had sent "a shamefully different message" than the country's founding beliefs.

Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was once shot by the Taliban following her advocacy for women's education in Pakistan, wrote that she was "heartbroken".

"America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants - the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life," she added.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also posted a lengthy note to his own profile on the site, saying he was "concerned" about the president's executive orders, and noting that he, like many Americans, is the descendant of immigrants.

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union condemned the use of the words "extreme vetting", saying it was a "euphemism for discriminating against Muslims".

"Identifying specific countries with Muslim majorities and carving out exceptions for minority religions flies in the face of the constitutional principle that bans the government from either favouring or discriminating against particular religions," Anthony Romero said in a statement.

- BBC

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