Global backlash over Trump’s ban on refugees entering US

Federal judge moves to block deportation for people holding valid US visas

US president Donald Trump's executive order closing the nation's borders to visitors and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries is met by nationwide protests and a successful lawsuit. Video: Reuters

 

A global backlash against US president Donald Trump’s immigration curbs gathered pace on Sunday as several countries including long-standing American allies criticised the measures as discriminatory and divisive.

Governments from London and Berlin to Jakarta and Tehran spoke out against Mr Trump’s order to put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily ban travellers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, which he said would help protect Americans from terrorism.

In Germany - which has taken in large numbers of people fleeing the Syrian civil war - chancellor Angela Merkel said the global fight against terrorism was no excuse for the measures and “does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion”, her spokesman said.

She expressed her concerns to Mr Trump during a phone call and reminded him that the Geneva Conventions require the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds, the spokesman added.

Ms Merkel’s sentiments were echoed in Paris and London; “Terrorism knows no nationality. Discrimination is no response,” said French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, while his British counterpart Boris Johnson tweeted: “Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, says he shares “the concerns of other EU partners” at ban introduced by president Donald Trump barring entry to people from seven mainly Muslim countries.

Along with Syria, the US ban affects travellers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Mr Trump said his order, which indefinitely bans refugees from Syria, was “not a Muslim ban”, though he added he would seek to prioritise Christian refugees fleeing the war-torn country.

A federal judge in the US granted a stay on deportations for people who arrived in the US with valid visas but were detained on entry.

The stay is only a partial block to the broader executive order, with the judge stopping short of a broader ruling on its constitutionality.

Nevertheless, it was an early, significant blow to the new administration.

Less than 24 hours after two Iraqi men were detained at John F Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday morning, Judge Ann Donnelly of the federal district court in Brooklyn ordered an emergency stay, blocking the deportation of any individual currently being held in airports across the United States.

“I think the government hasn’t had a full chance to think about this,” the judge told a packed courtroom.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed the lawsuit earlier on Saturday, challenging the detention of the two Iraqi men, with two more plaintiffs later added to the suit, who were both valid US green-card holders. But the judge’s ruling extended to all individuals facing similar situations across the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security said the court ruling would not affect the overall implementation of the White House order and affected a relatively small number of travellers inconvenienced by security procedures.

Protests

Protests were staged at more than a dozen airports around the country. Hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate at Kennedy airport in New York and the international ports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Philadelphia and other cities where people were detained and families separated overnight.

Multiple immigration lawyers were also at airports, offering their services pro-bono to those detained.

The New York Taxi workers association, a group which advocates for taxi drivers’ rights, called for a one-hour driver boycott of JFK airport in solidarity with refugees being refused entry on Sunday.

In a tweet, it said: “We cannot be silent. We go to work to welcome people to a land that once welcomed us. We will not be divided.”

Washington’s Arab allies, including the Gulf states and Egypt, were mostly silent following the order.

The government in Iraq, which is allied with Washington in the battle against ultra-hardline Islamist group Islamic State and hosts over 5,000 US troops, also did not comment on the executive order.

But some members of the parliament said Iraq should retaliate with similar measures against the United States.

In Baghdad, influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said American nationals should leave Iraq, in retaliation for the travel curbs.

“It would be arrogance for you to enter freely Iraq and other countries while barring to them the entrance to your country . . . and therefore you should get your nationals out,” he said on his website.

There was no immediate reaction to the curbs from Islamic State, although in the past it has used US monitoring of Muslim foreigners to stoke Muslim anger against Washington.

Havoc

Mr Trump’s executive order on Friday took effect immediately, wreaking havoc and confusion for would-be travellers with passports from the seven countries and plunging America’s immigration system into chaos. US civil rights and faith groups, activists and Democratic politicians vowed to fight the order.

The Tehran government vowed to respond in kind to the US ban on visitors from Iran, but on Sunday foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that Americans who already hold Iranian visas can enter the country.

“Unlike the US, our decision is not retroactive. All with valid Iranian visa will be gladly welcomed,” Mr Zarif said.

Mr Trump, a businessman who successfully tapped into American fears about militant attacks during his campaign, had promised what he called “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees from areas the White House said the US Congress deemed high risk.

He said on Saturday of his order: “It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

The travel curbs, however, also drew criticism from several other countries around the globe.

In Jakarta, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi said the Muslim-majority nation deeply regretted Mr Trump’s plans for “extreme vetting” of people from some Muslim countries.

The Danish, Swedish and Norwegian governments all registered their opposition, with Danish foreign minister Anders Samuelsen tweeting: “The US decision not to allow entry of people from certain countries is NOT fair.”

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said his country welcomed those fleeing war and persecution, even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back US-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” he tweeted.

Reuters