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UN on US Refugee Decision: Build Bridges Not Walls

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A Syrian refugee girl looks out from a tent amidst dust at Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, Aug. 13, 2012.

U.N. agencies are reacting with dismay and alarm to the decision by the Trump Administration to temporarily suspend U.S. refugee resettlement programs. The agencies report the impact of this decision is having an unsettling impact upon the refugees.

The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 800 refugees set to make America their new home this week have been barred from traveling to the United States. The UNHCR estimates 20,000 more vulnerable refugees will be denied entry to the United States during the 120-day freeze of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

The suspension is part of an Executive Order signed by President Trump, as he said, to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the country and to establish new “extreme vetting” measures of immigrants.

UNHCR spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci tells VOA a lengthy and rigorous screening process of refugees, which can take up to two years to complete already is in place.

“We do a first interview and screening and then the countries, so all 30 countries that do resettlement, it is not just the United States doing resettlement, does another part of the screening," Maestracci said. "They make the final decision as to who will be resettled in their country. And, there is an entire part of the process, the screening process that is in their hands ... It is fair to say that refugees being resettled to the United States are among the most vetted people coming into that country.”

International Organization for Migration spokesman Leonard Doyle says every country has a right to look to its own security and determine its own borders. But he tells VOA IOM is very concerned about the refugees who have gone through the screening process and security checks and then been left in limbo.

“And, after perhaps four years of waiting, waiting patiently to be resettled, they have sold their goods, they have given away their settlement in a refugee camp where they may have been for two decades," Doyle said. "They have lost their livelihood, given away their job, handed back their ration card only to be told at the last minute and rather cruelly to go back to the refugee camp.”

Doyle says IOM enormously respects the U.S. role as a beacon of hope for refugees and migrants for decades. He adds while every country has a right to patrol its own borders, IOM believes in bridges rather than walls.

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