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US should lift measure suspending refugee resettlement, says UN chief Guterres, other UN officials

NEW YORK/GENEVA, FEBRUARY 1 – Reacting to the recent suspension by the United States of its longstanding refugee programme, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today said resettlement is often “the only possible solution” for people fleeing conflict and persecution, and that the US policy, which bars entry of Syrians into the country, “should be removed sooner rather than later.”

Asked about the impact of the Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump on 27 January, that, among things, halts the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, bars entry of refugees from seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspends entry of Syrians until further notice, the UN chief said resettlement is “a must […] and the United States has always been at the forefront of refugee protection. Syrians are those that at present have the most dramatic needs.”

Mr. Guterres, speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters, emphasized: “In my opinion, the US policy is not the way […] to best protect the US or any other country, in relation to the serious concerns that exist about the possibility of terrorist infiltration. I don’t think this is the effective way to do so and I think these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

Noting that the measures “violate our basic principles,” he said they are not effective if the objective is to avoid terrorist entering the US. “We are dealing with very sophisticated global terrorist organizations. If a global terrorist organization [tried] to attack a country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflict today,” said the UN chief, adding that they might come with passports from the most developed in the world, or they might use people that have been for decades sometimes inside the countries.

Expressing shock at the scale of the devastation in Aleppo, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR today called for accelerated and immediate humanitarian assistance for millions of people trying to rebuild war-shattered lives in Syria. The Un Refugee agency head decried U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees and visa holders from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries.

Grandi asked how can Trump “turn them back” and “not consider giving them protection?”

In Geneva a group of United Nations human rights experts today said that the Executive Order signed by US President Donald Trump on 27 January 2017 breaches the country’s international human rights obligations, which protect the principles of non-refoulement and non-discrimination based on race, nationality or religion. The Presidential Executive Order bars all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries -Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen- from entering the US for the next 90 days.

“Such an order is clearly discriminatory based on one’s nationality and leads to increased stigmatization of Muslim communities ,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on migrants, François Crépeau; on racism, Mutuma Ruteere; on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson; on torture, Nils Melzer; and on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed.

“The US recent policy on immigration also risks people being returned, without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures, to places in which they risk being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in direct contravention of international humanitarian and human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” they warned.

The Executive Order applies to those who come from these countries-whether or not they have valid visa documents or are in transit. It also affects those who have dual nationality, who either have a passport from one of those countries or are travelling from one of those countries. Those currently residing in the US may be able to fly to the US but entry is not guaranteed.

“This is deeply troubling, and we are additionally concerned that such persons travelling to the US will be subject to detention for an undefined period of time and then ultimately deported,” the human rights experts said.

The Executive Order stops the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, indefinitely bans Syrian refugees, and halts the planned entry of more than 50,000 refugees in the US fiscal year 2017, which began in October 2016 and will end in September 2017.

“In the midst of the world’s greatest migration crisis since World War II, this is a significant setback for those who are obviously in need of international protection. The US must live up to its international obligations and provide protection for those fleeing persecution and conflicts,” the human rights experts stressed. “The US is also involved in conflicts such as those in Iraq and Syria and its responsibility must extend to offering refuge to those fleeing from the conflicts.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. (@OnuItalia)

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