WASHINGTON: The US refugee resettlement programme that President Donald Trump suspended on Friday has long been the world’s most generous source of sanctuary for victims of conflict.
A week after taking office, citing the supposed threat of violent extremists hidden among Muslim refugee arrivals, Trump halted the programme for at least 120 days.
Even if the programme is revived in some form after this period, this will dramatically curtail the world’s humanitarian effort to resettle vulnerable refugees.
In 2015, the United States alone was responsible for allowing in and finding homes for 64 per cent of those referred to world governments by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Under President Barack Obama in the 2016 US fiscal year — which ran from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 — the United States admitted 84,994 refugees from around the world.
And already in this fiscal year, another 25,671 have come, as US officials raced to cope with large numbers fleeing extremist violence and civil war in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Before leaving office, Obama set a target of 110,000 admissions in the 2017 fiscal year that ends on September 30. Trump’s order slashes that figure to 50,000.
In its last report to Congress on the subject, the Obama administration said it expected to have just over $1.5 billion to spend on the refugee programme in the 2017 fiscal year.
New resettlements did not stop when Trump, who had harsh words for the program on the campaign trail last year, came to office on January 20 and began drawing up executive orders.
In fact, in the single week since Inauguration Day, the United States resettled 2,089 people.
Crucially, many of these come from countries that Trump’s administration has singled out for special scrutiny: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The new administration claims that these mainly Muslim and in some cases unstable nations could be a source of extremist infiltration.
But in fact, no refugee who passed through the resettlement program — which involves a thorough investigation by US authorities — has ever been convicted of a terrorist crime.
In addition to facing the same suspension in the refugee programme as citizens of other states, would-be visitors or immigrants from these countries will not be allowed to seek visas during a 90-day period.
During this time, Trump has ordered senior staff to conduct a review of security procedures for migrants, visitors and refugees with a view to imposing “extreme vetting” on future applicants.
Pro-Trump media such as the nationalist site Breitbart, formerly run by the president’s chief of strategy Steve Bannon, have criticised the State Department for continuing to welcome new arrivals.
But in the week since Trump came to power, 142 Iranians, 218 Iraqis, 211 Somalis, 37 Sudanese, 296 Syrians and a Yemeni have begun new lives in the United States.