By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency and International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on the Trump administration on Saturday to continue offering asylum to people fleeing war and persecution, saying its resettlement programme was vital.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
"The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the U.S. resettlement program is one of the most important in the world," the two Geneva-based agencies said in a joint statement.
Trump stopped the entry of travelers from Syria and the six other nations - Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen - for at least 90 days, saying his administration needed time to develop more stringent screening processes for refugees, immigrants and visitors.
IOM and UNHCR said they remained committed to working with the U.S. administration towards a shared goal of ensuring "safe and secure resettlement and immigration programmes".
"We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race," they said.
Resettlement places provided by every country for vulnerable refugees, some of whom require special medical treatment not available in their first country of asylum, are vital, the agencies said. More than 30 countries take part in the programme, which starts with vetting by the UNHCR.
The agencies said they hope "the U.S. will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution".
Some 25,000 refugees were resettled in the United States between October and year-end under the UNHCR's programme for the most vulnerable, the agency said on Friday.
A host of U.S. federal government agencies are involved and extensive background checks are carried out, UNHCR spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci told a briefing.
"I think it's fair to say that refugees coming into the United States to be resettled are some of the most vetted individuals entering the United States," she said.
The IOM wants migration to be legal, safe and secure for all, including for destination countries, spokesman Joel Millman said.
"So we hope 90 days is a temporary time and we stand ready to assist any way we can," Millman told Reuters Television.
"We're concerned that any delay might force some people to start from the beginning but generally speaking it's a long, long process and probably 90 days is something most people will be willing to wait because they have been waiting years already."
(Additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Dominic Evans and Helen Popper)