Rights groups decry Trump’s tougher vetting of refugees

Stricter screening of refugees from 11 unnamed countries could see delays and vulnerable people face blanket suspicion.

Rights groups and activists have denounced US President Donald Trump’s decision to toughen measures on refugees from 11 countries, as a travel ban that lasted 120 days ended.

Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday that directs government agencies to resume the US refugee programme.

But, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a 90-day review period for those arriving from “11 countries previously identified as posing a higher risk to the United States” will be put in place.

The 11 “high risk” countries have not been named. The previous 120-day travel ban had applied to refugees from most countries to allow time for the vetting process to be reviewed.

The new measures include more rigorous vetting and an enhanced screening of all refugees. 

“We can’t stomach the news,” said Amnesty International, writing on Twitter. “We’ll keep fighting!”

The rights group earlier said Trump’s order puts “thousands of families and individuals at serious risk of injury or death”. 

“Ripping families apart and subjecting refugees to yet more scrutiny does not keep anyone safer, and in fact exposes more people to danger,” said Naureen Shah, senior director of campaigns at Amnesty International USA.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid group voiced its concern over “arbitrary obstacles placed in front of the most vulnerable populations on the planet”. 

“With a myriad of actions against refugees and immigrants – and a demonstrated inclination to erect any obstacle possible – this administration provokes apprehension when regularly electing for withdrawal, over decency and resolve,” said Said Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of IRC’s US programme, speaking before the announcement.

Meanwhile, Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, criticised Trump for “making life or death decisions for people who otherwise may have had a chance to resettle here, raise their families in safety, and become valued American citizens”. 

‘Blanket suspicion’

Under the new order, refugee applicants looking to seek asylum in the US will now be required to provide addresses, phone numbers and email addresses not only for the past decade but also potentially of their family members.

Officials will also check applicants’ social media accounts.

Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, worried that the new measures would harm the well-being of those seeking safety from war and persecution.

“It sends a message that they can go through the most difficult of circumstances, they can endure incredible hardships and still be faced with this blanket suspicion that they have to prove they are worthy of being resettled and deserve to be safe and secure,” she told Al Jazeera, speaking from Baltimore, Maryland.

There are growing fears that the more detailed screening process will lead to years-long delays for urgent cases. 

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from New York, said many refugee rights organisations across the US are still trying to make sense of the measures.

“There is a lot of confusion and a lot of questions to be answered,” he said.

Last month, the Trump administration announced that it wants to reduce the number of refugees entering the country in 2018 to 45,000 – the lowest number in decades.

Trump initially signed an executive order in January that temporarily banned Syrian refugees, but that move was challenged in the courts.

A revised order was later issued in June that implemented a ban on all refugees, with some exceptions.

Source: Al Jazeera