UN refugees agency concerned by US travel ban implications

AP News
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Posted: Feb 04, 2017 1:33 PM
UN refugees agency concerned by US travel ban implications

BEIRUT (AP) — It's up to the U.S. to decide the legality of the ban on admitting any refugees but the United Nations is extremely concerned by its implications, the U.N.'s top official on refugees said in an interview Saturday.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Associated Press that "we are extremely involved and concerned by the operational aspect, of course, because many people have been affected and have gone through the whole process of being admitted to the United States."

"We're busy with gauging the consequences of that and managing them and discussing them with the U.S. administration," Grandi said in Beirut after visiting Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live.

His comments came hours after a federal judge's order blocking President Donald Trump's ban on admitting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries or any refugees left authorities and advocates at a loss Saturday.

Trump lashed out at "this so-called judge" who put a nationwide hold on his executive order denying entry to the U.S.

Trump ordered in January a four-month suspension of America's broader refugee program. The suspension is intended to provide time to review how refugees are vetted before they are allowed to resettle in the United States.

Trump's order also cuts the number of refugees the United States plans to accept this budget year by more than half, to 50,000 people from around the world.

During the last budget year the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the current refugee limit at 110,000.

The temporary halt to refugee admissions does include exceptions for people claiming religious persecution, so long as their religion is a minority faith in their country. That could apply to Christians from Muslim-majority countries.

Grandi said that cutting down the number of refugees "goes against the spirit of international cooperation" which the United States and other nations reaffirmed as the fundamental approach toward refugees last year at the Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York."

"So if you reduce one of the most significant aspects of burden sharing of global responsibility you weaken that spirit which is really what we need to have and to maintain to uphold to expand to address the huge problem of refugees and displaced," Grandi said.

Asked whether UNHCR plans to identify other countries to take in those refugees that the U.S. has banned, Grandi said other countries have their own procedures and shouldn't be additionally burdened by those who can no longer go to the United States.

"We have to be careful that we don't block those pipelines to put (or) to transfer the U.S. pipeline," Grandi said.

He added that the ban has affected some 411 refugees currently living in Lebanon, a small Arab country hosting some 1.2 million refugees, or a quarter of the country's population.

"These are people that have actually completed the process, are ready to go, were ready to board planes and go to the U.S. and were told that they have to wait here," Grandi said. "This is a big problem. Maybe they have sold all their belongings, maybe they have given up whatever residency permit they have."

"We will have to backtrack for them, we will have to negotiate that they can stay here for another while in a country that already hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees," he said.

"It's unfair to them terribly, it's unfair to Lebanon too," Grandi said.