UN chief condemns Donald Trump’s Muslim travel curbs

Four US states take legal action in order to overturn the restrictions on refugees

 US president Donald  Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

US president Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA


UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that US president Donald Trump’s travel restrictions on seven Muslim-majority countries and freeze on refugee resettlement should be lifted sooner rather than later.

“This is not the way to best protect the US or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that exist about possible terrorist infiltration,” Mr Guterres said to reporters.

“I don’t think this is the effective way to do so. I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

His statement followed a warning on Wednesday from UN experts that asylum-seekers could face torture if they are not given safe harbour in the US and a call from the Vatican for openness to other cultures, adding to a drumbeat of international criticism of Mr Trump’s travel curbs.

Meanwhile, four US states - Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington - have sued to overturn the order on the grounds it flouts constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

Mr Trump’s executive order last Friday put a 120-day halt on the US refugee programme, barred Syrian refugees from the country indefinitely and imposed a 90-day suspension on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - entering the US.

The move, which his administration says is aimed at protecting the US from terrorist attacks, has been condemned by many countries and has sparked protests and court challenges in the US.

A panel of UN human rights experts urged the Trump administration to protect people fleeing war and persecution, and said the travel curbs contravened international humanitarian and human rights laws.

It “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”, the experts said in a statement.

The experts, including the UN special rapporteurs on migrants, racism, human rights and counter-terrorism, torture, and freedom of religion, also said the measure could lead to “increased stigmatisation of Muslim communities”.

The Vatican, in its first comment on the order, also said it was concerned about the measure.

“Certainly, there is worry because we are messengers of another culture, that of openness,” the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, told an Italian Catholic television station.

Pope Francis, in fact, insists on the ability to integrate those who arrive in our societies and cultures,” he said.

Iranian response

In Iran, president Hassan Rouhani stepped up his criticism of Mr Trump’s immigration policies, including the travel ban, dismissing the US businessman-turned-president as a political novice.

Tehran has already vowed to respond with legal, political and reciprocal measures.

“It will take him a long time and will cost the US a lot, until he learns what is happening in the world,” Mr Rouhani said, in an address on state television.

Libya’s UN-backed government also criticised Mr Trump’s ban on its nationals.

The order has put in question the participation of Libyans in a conference on Libya which is scheduled to take place in Washington this month.

The measure was one of a flurry of executive orders signed by Mr Trump, a Republican, since he took office on January 20th.

“Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!” Mr Trump said on Twitter early Wednesday.

Reaction to the travel curbs from some Muslim-majority countries not on Mr Trump’s list has been more muted.

The UAE’s minister for foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said on Wednesday the ban was an internal affair that was not directed at any faith, and noted that most Muslims and Muslim countries were not included.

The UAE, a major oil exporter, is a close ally of the US and a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamist militants in Syria.