Trump signs executive order banning Syrian refugees

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Trump said the measures would prevent 'terrorist' attacks [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

US refugee programme suspended for 120 days and Syrian refugees barred until further notice.

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order suspending the US refugee programme for 120 days, specifically barring Syrian refugees until further notice.

Trump signed the order at the Pentagon, saying the moves would help protect Americans from “terrorist” attacks.

“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said earlier on Friday.

“We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.

Civil rights groups condemned the measures as discriminatory.

The order suspends the Syrian refugee programme until further notice, and will eventually give priority to minority religious groups fleeing persecution. Trump said in an interview with a Christian news outlet the exception would help Syrian Christians fleeing the civil war there.

His order had been expected to include a directive about setting up “safe zones” for Syrian refugees inside the country, but no such language was included.

READ MORE: Trump’s first week – Executive overdrive

The measure limits entry for at least 90 days from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries, but did not list the countries by name.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association said it would ban entry from nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

The order also said all immigration programmes should include questions to “evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society”.

Jennifer Sime, the senior vice president of US programmes at the International Rescue Committee, an NGO that works with refugees, told Al Jazeera: “I think it’s important to understand that there is already a robust vetting process in place.  It was reviewed a few days ago and new things were added to enhance the vetting process.”

She added that refugees were already the “single most vetted population coming into the US”.

On the exception in the order that favours Syrian Christian refugees, Sime said: “The first thing to remember is that this programme [was] based on the principle of non-discrimination, so it’s not about choosing Muslims or Christians. Refugees are selected based on need, urgency and basically their cases, not based on political affiliation and religion.”

Trump’s order 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 US accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the current refugee limit at 110,000.

During the Obama administration, vetting for refugees included in-person interviews overseas, where they provided biographical details about themselves, including their families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, phone numbers, email accounts and more.

They also provided biometric information, including fingerprints. Syrians were subject to additional, classified controls that administration officials at the time declined to describe, and processing for that group routinely took years to complete.

Following Trump’s signing of the order, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a US Muslim advocacy and civil rights group, said it would file a “federal lawsuit on behalf of more than 20 individuals challenging the ‘Muslim ban'”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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