United Nations: S-G calls for lifting of Trump's US travel ban
Published in SUNS #8394 dated 3 February 2017

Geneva, 2 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who took office in January, in a reference to US President Donald Trump's Executive Order that suspends the entire US refugee program as well as bars nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, has called for these measures to be removed, sooner rather than later.

Mr. Guterres is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, serving for a decade from 2005-2015.

Mr Guterres' comments came in response to a question posed to him at a press encounter at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday (a transcript of that press conference was made available to the media here).

The Executive Order signed by President Trump on 27 January 2017 suspends the entire US refugee programme for 120 days. It also indefinitely bans the entry of Syrian refugees.

The Order further 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.

Asked if he was going to call on President Trump to lift these restrictions, the Secretary-General said that in his opinion, the US policy "is not the way to best protect the US or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that exists about possibilities of terrorist infiltration."

"I don't think this is the effective way to do so, and I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later," Mr Guterres said.

Asked if the country-specific visa bans are a violation of the international obligations of the United States, the UN chief stressed that "resettlement of refugees is, in many situations, the only possible solution."

He added that resettlement "is a must" from the point of view of refugee protection. "And the United States has been always in the forefront of resettlement, and Syrians are those refugees that, at the present moment, have the most dramatic needs in the world."

"So I strongly hope that the US will be able to re-establish its very solid refugee protection in resettlement, and I hope that the Syrians will not be excluded in that process," said Mr Guterres.

In relation to the measures that were taken, he said that "those measures indeed violate our basic principles, and I think that they are not effective if the objective is to really avoid terrorists to enter the United States."

"We are dealing with very sophisticated global terrorist organisations. If a global terrorist organisation will try to attack any country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflict today. They might come with passports from the most, I'll say, developed and credible countries in the world, or they might use people that [have] been for decades sometimes inside the countries."

"And that is why it is so important not to have measures that spread anxiety and anger, because when we adopt measures that spread anxiety and anger, we help trigger the kind of recruitment mechanisms that these organisations are now doing everywhere in the world. And that is why we have been so strongly pushing for the capacity to have very strong measures in relation to management of borders but, at the same time, not to base them on any discrimination linked to nationality, religion or ethnicity," the UN chief underlined.

"We had a very constructive discussion with the American ambassador on the cooperation between the US and the UN. And, you know, sometimes we talk too much about things that have not happened. And when you talk too much about things that have not happened, you trigger the happening of those things," he further said.

"What I am doing is to do everything I can to prove the added value of the UN, to recognise the UN needs reforms, to be totally committed to those reforms, and to believe that those reforms will be the best way to get the support of all Member States, including the United States of America and its new administration."

Asked about the US administration's broader policies such as 'America First', threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change or the funding of the UN, which seems to be putting it at odds with the goals of the UN as a whole, the UN chief said "all complicated things have an easy answer, and the answer is to be firm in assessing all principles and open in engaging in constructive dialogue."

"And that is this combination that I will try to make effective in the way we deal with US Administration or in the way we deal with any other administration in the world."

Meanwhile, in a written statement on refugees issued on 31 January, the Secretary-General referred to his trip to Ethiopia, which he pointed out is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa that for decades has been keeping its borders open to hundreds of thousands of refugees from its neighbours, many times in dramatic security situations.

He went on to underline that countries have the right, even the obligation, to responsibly manage their borders to avoid infiltration by members of terrorist organizations.

He said this cannot be based on any form of discrimination related to religion, ethnicity or nationality because:

* that is against the fundamental principles and values on which our societies are based;

* that triggers widespread anxiety and anger that may facilitate the propaganda of the very terrorist organisations we all want to fight against;

* blind measures, not based on solid intelligence, tend to be ineffective as they risk being bypassed by what are today sophisticated global terrorist movements.

Without explicitly mentioning the US or President Trump by name, Mr Guterres said that he is also particularly concerned by the decisions that around the world have been undermining the integrity of the international refugee protection regime.

"Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are finding more and more borders closed and increasingly restricted access to the protection they need and are entitled to receive, according to international refugee law," the UN chief underlined.

The resounding call for the lifting of the US travel ban was echoed earlier by a group of United Nations human rights experts who charged that the Executive Order signed by President Trump breaches the country's international human rights obligations.

In a news release issued on Wednesday, the UN Special Rapporteurs on migrants, Francois Crepeau; on racism, Mutuma Ruteere; on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson; on torture, Nils Melzer; and on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed said that such human rights obligations protect the principles of non- refoulement and non-discrimination based on race, nationality or religion.

"Such an order is clearly discriminatory based on one's nationality and leads to increased stigmatization of Muslim communities," said the rights experts.

"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. (See SUNS #8393 dated 2 February 2017).