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UN Chief Urges US to Lift Immigration Ban

  • Margaret Besheer

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters during a news conference at the United Nations, Feb. 1, 2017.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for U.S. President Donald Trump to lift his executive order banning Syrian refugees indefinitely from the United States and temporarily restricting immigrants from seven countries.

"It is obvious that in my opinion this is not the way to best protect the U.S. or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that exist about possibilities of terrorist infiltration," Guterres told reporters. "I don't think this is the effective way to do so. I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later."

Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister and head of the U.N. refugee agency from 2005 to 2015, had been slow to denounce what many critics say is a ban that targets Muslim immigration to the United States. Guterres took the helm of the United Nations just one month ago and has faced reports the U.S. could substantially cut funding to the organization, as well as withdraw from an important climate change agreement.

On Wednesday, he made clear he believed the U.S. measure violated "our basic principles," and he said that in an age of sophisticated global terrorist organizations, such measures were unlikely to prevent terrorist attacks.

"If a global terrorist organization will try to attack any country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hot spots of conflict today," Guterres said.

WATCH: Guterres: Travel Ban ‘Spreads Anxiety and Anger’

More likely strategy

He suggested such groups most likely would use people carrying passports from "the most developed and credible countries in the world" or operatives who have lived "for decades sometimes" in a targeted country. That was the case in the 2015 terror attacks on Paris, where some of the terrorists were nationals of France and Belgium.

"That is why it is so important to have measures that don't spread anxiety and anger," Guterres said. "Because when we adopt measures that spread anxiety and anger, we help trigger the kind of recruitment mechanisms that these organizations are now doing everywhere in the world."

He noted it was important to have "very strong measures" for border management, "but at the same time not to place them in any discrimination linked to nationality, religion or ethnicity."

The U.N. human rights office has been vocal in criticizing the travel restrictions, saying the order is a "breach of Washington's human rights obligations."

In a statement signed by several U.N. human rights officials, the organization said the U.S. presidential directive was "deeply troubling" and could lead to further violence against people fleeing war zones.

At the Vatican, a top official also expressed concern Wednesday and called for Americans to "integrate those who arrive, who come into our society, into our culture."

"We are builders of bridges, far less of walls, and all Christians should emphatically reaffirm this message," Monsignor Angelo Becciu told the Catholic TV channel TV2000.

European Council President Donald Tusk listens during a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia, Jan. 31, 2017. Tusk said in a letter to EU leaders that "the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation, with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy."
European Council President Donald Tusk listens during a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia, Jan. 31, 2017. Tusk said in a letter to EU leaders that "the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation, with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy."

EU warning

Separately, European Union President Donald Tusk warned that China, Russia and the Trump administration were among the top external threats facing the bloc of European nations.

His remarks came in a letter to 27 EU leaders before a summit Friday in Malta.

"Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation, with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy," Tusk said.

Trump has insisted on policies that put the United States first, and has questioned whether NATO members are contributing their fair share to the alliance.

Tusk laid out a defense of the European Union, saying it has never faced more dangerous challenges and requires "courage, determination and political solidarity."

He said the European Union must stand up for its dignity in talks with the United States, Russia, China or Turkey, and it must not give in to populist arguments and xenophobic sentiments that go against European integration.

Dependence on superpowers

"It must be made crystal clear that the disintegration of the European Union will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China. Only together can we be fully independent," Tusk wrote.

FILE - People demonstrate against the TTIP and CETA trade agreements in Leipzig, Germany, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with the United States and Canada.
FILE - People demonstrate against the TTIP and CETA trade agreements in Leipzig, Germany, Sept. 17, 2016. Thousands of people are rallying in cities across Germany to protest against planned European Union trade deals with the United States and Canada.

With Trump calling for renegotiated trade deals, Tusk advocated for the European Union to protect its citizens and businesses, and remember "that free trade means fair trade."

He ended the letter by saying the bloc cannot give in to those who want to "weaken or invalidate" the bond between the United States and the European Union.

Tusk wrote, "We should remind our American friends of their own motto: 'United we stand, divided we fall.' "

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