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Refugees detained at airports after Trump bans them from entering US

Trump has barred all refugees from entering the country for three months — and those from war-ravaged Syria indefinitely.

Trump speaks during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday
Trump speaks during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday
Image: Evan Vucci/PA

Updated 2.55pm

REFUGEES EN ROUTE to the United States have been detained at airports after President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring all refugees from entering the US for three months.

Those from war-ravaged Syria will be banned from entering the country indefinitely. Trump said the ban is necessary to prevent “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the nation.

Cairo airport officials say seven US-bound migrants — six from Iraq and one from Yemen — have been prevented from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York’s JFK airport.

The officials said the action by the airport today was the first since Trump imposed the ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The officials said the seven migrants, escorted by officials from the UN refugee agency, were stopped from boarding the plane after authorities at Cairo airport contacted their counterparts in JFK airport.

The New York Times reports that the detentions have prompted legal challenges from two Iraqi refugees held at JFK Airport.

Their lawyers want them released and also filed a motion for class certification, in an effort to represent all refugees and immigrants, who they said were being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.

The head of a leading refugee aid agency has said Trump’s decision hurts innocent people fleeing violence.

Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council said the move “will not make America safer, it will make America smaller and meaner”.

Egeland said the decision dealt a “mortal blow” to the idea of international responsibility for those fleeing persecution. He says the US is leading a “race to the bottom” in which politicians in wealth countries provide “zero moral leadership”.

Religion

The executive order signed by Trump yesterday immediately suspended a programme that last year resettled to the US roughly 85,000 people displaced by war, political oppression, hunger and religious prejudice.

Trump indefinitely blocked all those fleeing Syria, where a civil war has displaced millions of people, and imposed a 90-day ban on entry to the US from seven Muslim-majority nations.

“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said as he signed the order at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

Trump said the halt in the refugee programme was necessary to give government agencies time to develop a stricter vetting system. But the order did spell out what additional steps he wants the Homeland Security and State departments to take.

The US may admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, and the government will continue to process requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country”.

In an interview with CBN News, Trump said persecuted Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status.

“We are going to help them,” Trump said. “They’ve been horribly treated.”

The order was signed on Trump’s most robust day of national security and foreign policy at the start of his presidency, marked by a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and a lengthy phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

As a candidate, Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the US. He later shifted his focus to putting in place “extreme vetting” procedures to screen people coming to the US from countries with terrorism ties.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said it would file a federal lawsuit on Monday challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.

“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” CAIR’s National Litigation Director Lena F.Masri said. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day

During the past budget year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.

Trump, according to the executive order, plans to cut that to 50,000. Refugee processing was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks and restarted months later.

The president was applauded by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said it was “time to re-evaluate and strengthen the visa-vetting process.” Many Democrats cast the measures as un-American.

“Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded has been stomped upon,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Trump’s order was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which brought to mind the global effort to help refugees during World War II and its aftermath.

The order makes no mention of a plan to provide safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area. A draft of the order had directed the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in the war-torn Mideast nation.

The president’s directive capped a hectic first week for Trump at the White House, giving Americans an initial look at how he intends to position the US around the globe.

Earlier on Friday, he hosted May at the White House for his first meeting with a world leader since taking office. Asked about whether he would revert back to Bush-era use of torture, Trump said he would defer to the views of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“He has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding, or however you want to define it … I don’t necessarily agree,” Trump said. “But I would tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power. He’s an expert.”

The Associated Press and other news organisations have obtained copies of a draft executive order signaling sweeping changes to US interrogation and detention policy. The draft, which the White House said was not official, also requests recommendations on whether the US should reopen CIA detention facilities outside the United States. Critics said the clandestine sites have marred America’s image on the world stage.

Trump held firm yesterday on another controversy — trade and illegal immigration from Mexico. He told reporters he had a “very good call” with Peña Nieto earlier in the day, but he reaffirmed his belief that Mexico has “outnegotiated and beat us to a pulp” on trade — and that would change.

“We’re no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing,” he declared a day after the Mexican leader canceled his visit to Washington in response to Trump’s plans to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it.

Read: Trump to Theresa: ‘A free and independent Britain is a blessing to the world’

Read: US immigration attorney warns undocumented Irish to ‘remain silent or you’ll be gone very quickly’

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