By Ellise Nicholls
Last week, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparking protests across the US and drawing condemnation from the rest of the world.
Others see the travel ban as Mr Trump sticking to his election promises to “make America great again”.
The order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to “prioritize for removal” not only unauthorized residents who “have been convicted of any criminal offense”, but also those who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” (meaning a conviction is not required) and those who “have engaged in fraud or wilful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency.”
For 120 days, the US Refugee Admissions Programme will be suspended, alongside an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.
Anyone arriving from the seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – will face a 90-day visa suspension, although diplomats and the UN are not included in the suspension.
All travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the US for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa, including those with dual nationality with allied countries.
The order also caps the number of refugees to be accepted into the United States at 50,000 during 2017, a significant decrease against the 110,000 refugee limit previously set by former president Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, U.N. human rights experts said that Trump’s travel ban contravenes international law and could lead to refugees being sent home to war and persecution.
His executive order has aroused an international outcry and sown chaos and bewilderment amongst travellers.
Three U.S states have legally challenged the order aiming to overturn it, saying it flouts constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
U.N. experts have urged Trump administration to protect asylum seekers and to not discriminate based on race, nationality and religion.
The independent experts included the U.N. special rapporteurs on migrants, François Crépeau; on racism, Mutuma Ruteere; on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson; on torture, Nils Melzer; and on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed.
They said that the U.S should not force back refugees, a practice known as refoulement.
“Such an order is clearly discriminatory. based on one’s nationality. and leads to increased stigmatization of Muslim communities,” said the experts.
“Recent U.S. policy on immigration also 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, in direct contravention of international humanitarian and human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement.”
On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zaid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the travel ban, which discriminates against people of specific nationalities, is illegal.
The experts called on Washington to maintain internationally agreed obligations to offer refuge to those fleeing war. They voiced concern that people travelling to the U.S could be subjected to detention and deportation.
Nils Melzer, United Nations rapporteur on torture, urged Trump not to return to George W. Bush’s interrogation techniques, which were banned by Obama, including waterboarding and other methods of torture.
Trump’s top defense and security appointees said they would oppose any use of it, despite Trump stating that he believes waterboarding works.
“Any tolerance, complacency or acquiescence with such practice, however exceptional and well-argued, will inevitably lead down a slippery slope towards complete arbitrariness and brute force,” Melzer said.
The UK foreign office released a statement saying that only if you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the U.S from outside the seven blacklisted countries, the order would not apply to you.
It also said that “if you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth”.
However, this is not 100% certain, as one Scottish veterinary student travelling on an Iranian passport was unable to return home from her holiday in Costa Rice because her U.S transit visa was no longer valid.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus has said that those who hold US green cards would not be affected, although he said to NBC’s Meet the Press Programme that they could be subject to greater questioning at airports.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official told CNN that no green card holder has been denied entry thus far.
In his defence, President Trump has said the halt on the refugee programme was necessary as a means to give government agencies appropriate time to develop a stricter vetting system. This would aim to ensure that visas were not issued to individuals who may pose a national security threat.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” the President said in a statement released on Facebook.
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.
“We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
Mr Priebus said the seven countries were included because Congress and former President Obama’s administration had previously identified them because they were “the most watched countries harbouring terrorists”.
Individuals from those countries applying for resettlement in the US were already subject to a process that could take up to 24 months, including a complicated background investigation and numerous security screenings.