GENEVA, SWITZERLAND —
The U.N. refugee agency says Syrian and other refugees pose no national security threat to the United States. The UNHCR, other U.N. agencies and human rights advocates are urging the United States to reconsider its ban on immigration.
The U.N. refugee agency says there is no merit to a claim by U.S. President Donald Trump that Syrian refugees threaten national security and should be banned from entering the United States.
On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order denying entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the United States for 90 days. The new policy also calls for the suspension of all refugee resettlement to the U.S. for 120 days and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees from entering the country.
UNHCR spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci rejected assertions that Syrian refugees are terrorists. She said refugees are victims of terrorists and those proposed for resettlement are among the most vulnerable people on Earth. They include women and children, people with disabilities and serious medical needs.
She told VOA that refugees undergo a very rigorous screening process before they are admitted to the U.S. for resettlement.
"I think it is fair to say that refugees coming into the United States to be resettled are some of the most vetted individuals entering the United States," said the spokeswoman.
In a recent interview with U.S. media, President Trump said the U.S. has taken in "tens of thousands of people" without knowing anything about them, adding that they were not vetted. The president is calling for "extreme vetting" of immigrants coming to the U.S.
Maestracci said the UNHCR carefully screens all refugees proposed for resettlement in the United States and more than 30 other countries. She said the U.S. decides which refugees it will accept; a process that can take two years.
"There are many, many layers to it within the U.S. system," she said. "I think eight federal government agencies are involved. There are six different security data base, five separate background checks all done by the U.S."
The Office of Refugee Resettlement reports 14,333 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since 2012. This number pales in comparison to other countries, such as Turkey, which currently hosts nearly three million Syrian refugees.