Pursuant to President Trump’s executive order, decisions on applications for refugee status are suspended for 120 days. During this time procedures for screening and vetting refugees are to be reviewed “to ensure that individuals seeking admission as refugees do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States”.
The Refugee Convention allows for expelling a refugee on grounds of national security and public order (Art. 32) but s/he should be allowed a legal procedure, in the course of which s/he can clear his or herself of the posed charges and appeal to the relevant authority. The expelled refugee should also be allowed to seek refuge in another country before being deported. An outright suspension on admitting refugees to the U.S. violates those provisions.
The Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in his remarks regarding the presidential order, stated “more than 300 people who came as refugees are under FBI investigation for potential terrorism-related activities”.
However there were few instances of refugees involved in terrorist acts, the most high-profile terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 were committed either by American citizens or by people from countries other than the majority-Muslim nations named in Trump’s order.
What’s more, in 2015 the American Immigration Council issued a report investigating the relation between immigration and crime. The researchers concluded, “immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime”.
The new presidential order upholds the travel ban for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days. The countries have been identified “as presenting heightened concerns about terrorism”.
The six countries covered by the almost blanket ban (the visa holders exempted) on entering the United States are classified by Freedom House as ‘Not Free’, taking into consideration the scope of political rights and civil liberties they offer to their citizens.
Five of the six countries are either war-torn or ridden by armed conflicts. According to the Convention, refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or with a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. It is not inconceivable, to say the least, that the citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen flee their countries due to a fear of war or prosecution, seeking refuge in other states, the U.S. included.
The provision of the Convention applies to all refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin (Art. 3), thus singling out a number of countries, for citizens of which the state’s regulations are more rigid, is a violation of the international law.
An American NGO – the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee points out to the fact that the travel ban concerns the predominantly Muslim countries and calls it “xenophobia and Islamophobia”.
The travel of refugees to the U.S. ought to be resumed after 120 days, once additional procedures to ensure the security and welfare of the United States are put in place. It remains to be seen to which extent those will be in compliance with the Refugee Convention provisions.