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February 01, 2017

The Trump Administration Turns its Back on the World’s Refugees

This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post.

President Trump and his senior advisors have sought to downplay the significance of the sweeping restrictions on refugees and immigrants from selected Muslim-majority countries. They have claimed that it only directly affected 109 people traveling to the United States, and have insisted that it is “not a Muslim ban” in one statement, while claiming that it was the enactment of a campaign promise to impose a Muslim ban, in another.

What is beyond doubt is that the executive order represents the United States turning its back on the worst global refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The Trump Administration’s unilateral actions suspending the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program and slashing the annual rate of refugee admissions, even when refugees do not and have never constituted a security threat, can only undermine multilateral efforts to respond to the migration crisis. Ultimately, it will be self-defeating and harmful to the United States. 

Take for example the ongoing migration crisis in Europe. After the massive influx of migrants from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and early 2016, the European Union announced a plan to resettle up to 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy. This plan has resulted in the resettlement of only a few thousand refugees to date and left tens of thousands stranded in Greece living in harsh conditions. E.U. negotiations with Turkey stemmed the flow of migrants into Greece from Turkey, but the Turkish government may revoke that agreement.

The failure of the European Union to implement a plan to address the migration crisis in an orderly manner, in accordance with international law, and responsive to the humanitarian needs of refugees is an indication of institutional failure. This failure carries many adverse consequences:

  • Refugees are held in inhumane conditions without access to adequate educational opportunities for children or employment opportunities for adults.
  • Stranded, without prospects, the migrant populations are ripe targets for radicalization by violent extremist groups, including ISIS.
  • The inhumane treatment of mainly Muslim migrants in Europe fuels Islamist extremist narratives that conflict between Muslims and the West is inevitable and necessary.
  • In the absence of safe, legal paths to permanent resettlement in other E.U. countries, smugglers and traffickers continue to prey on migrants and refugees.
  • The uncertain fate of tens of thousands of refugees and hundreds of thousands more in Turkey fuels popular fears in Europe that the E.U. and national governments have lost control over their borders. The need to “take back control” is a potent rallying call for far-right, nationalist xenophobic movements in many parts of the European Union.

Why should the United States care? A stable and prosperous Europe enhances U.S. national security, provides the United States with a major affluent trading partner, and facilitates multilateral cooperation on a broad range of transnational challenges, from controlling epidemic diseases to combating terrorism. Heightened tensions between minority Muslim populations and the broader societies in which they live will likely fuel extremism and thereby contribute to more political violence and terrorism, including the “extremist Islamic terrorism” the Trump Administration has pledged to eradicate.

Russia is taking advantage of the migration crisis in Europe to destabilize E.U. governments that have opposed Russian aggression in Ukraine, and to undermine the European Union, which provides an attractive alternative for many to life within Russia’s sphere of influence.

The Trump Administration’s actions are making the refugee crisis in Europe worse. By erecting barriers to resettlement of Syrian refugees, and refugees from other Muslim majority countries, the United States makes it easier for European governments to shirk their obligations to resettle refugees, compounding the problems faced by frontline European states, like Greece and Italy, and by U.S. allies in the Middle East, including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, where most Syrian refugees are currently located.