US restarts stricter refugee program, 11 countries still banned

The Trump administration has allowed the resumption of refugee admissions into the US under new stricter screening rules. Arrivals from 11 nations will remain blocked from entry, pending a 90-day review.

The US will once again accept refugees after a 120-day ban on admissions lapsed on Tuesday, with new arrivals facing stricter security screening, US officials have announced.

Arrivals from 11 nations will, however, remain blocked from entry, pending a 90-day review on implementing even stricter screening measures. The new state of affairs came after US President Donald Trump signed a presidential decree late Tuesday to replace one that expired that day.

Authorities have declined to specify the 11 countries on the temporary ban list, but said they matched a 2015 list for tougher screening, requiring a "Security Advisory Opinion."

Read more: US refugee intake slashed to 45,000

Refugee agencies said the affected countries were Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. All but two are Muslim-majority nations. Out of the 53,716 refugees the US accepted in the 2017 financial year, almost half came from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.

Some applicants from those 11 countries will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, "if it's deemed to be in the national interest and they pose no threat," a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Read more: Refugees flee US on foot, seek safety in Canada

'Enhanced' vetting

Applicants from all countries will face "enhanced" vetting, including more detailed checks of social media posts and connections, said Jennifer Higgins, associate director for refugees at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

"The security of the American people is our highest priority," she told journalists in a briefing.

The measures will also include collecting additional information to better determine whether refugees are being truthful about their status, stationing fraud detection officers at certain locations overseas and improving training for adjudicators who process refugee applications.

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In his election campaign, Trump vowed to "stop the massive inflow of refugees" and warned that terrorists were posing as refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.

"Thousands of refugees are being admitted with no way to screen them and are instantly made eligible for welfare and free health care, even as our own veterans, our great, great veterans, die while they're waiting online for medical care that they desperately need," Trump said last October.

A program that allows reunification of refugee families has also been placed on hold, according to a Trump administration memo seen by the Reuters news agency and sent to Congress. The program will resume once screening "enhancements have been implemented."

Trump's various travel bans have been legally challenged in several cases. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the last remaining challenge to an earlier version of Trump's travel ban.

Read more: Hawaii judge blocks Trump administration's latest travel ban

Process will add months or years


Albert Einstein

Famous for his theory of relativity, German Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein was visiting the US in 1933 when it became clear he could not return to Nazi Germany. He seems to have had mixed feelings about life in exile. He once wrote that he felt "privileged by fate" to be living in Princeton, but "almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer."


Marlene Dietrich

German singer and actress Marlene Dietrich, she of the husky voice and bedroom eyes, was already a star living in the US, when she acquired American citizenship in 1939 and turned her back on Nazi Germany. A prominent refugee, she spoke out against Hitler and sang for US troops during the war - while her films were banned in Germany. But she said: "I was born a German and shall always remain one."


Henry Kissinger

He was a Harvard professor, an authority on international relations, the 56th US Secretary of State, and instrumental in shaping American foreign policy - but in 1938, Bavarian-born Henry Kissinger fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution. Nevertheless Germany, the nonagenarian said in a speech several years ago, "has never ceased being a part of my life."


Madeleine Albright

Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Madeleine Albright and her family fled to the US in 1948 when communists took over the government. She got involved in politics and went on to become the highest-ranking woman in the US government: the first female Secretary of State (1997-2001).


George Weidenfeld

Born in Vienna in 1919, Lord George Weidenfeld was a British Jewish publisher who immigrated to London in the aftermath of the Nazi annexation of Austria. He co-founded a publishing company, served as chief of staff to Israel's first president, and funded the rescue of Syrian and Iraqi Christians. "I can't save the world … but I had a debt to repay," he once said.


Bela Bartok

The 20th century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and folk music collector Bela Bartok was not a Jew, but he was opposed to the rise of Nazism and the persecution of the Jews. In 1940, he moved to the US. "My main idea, which dominates me entirely, is the brotherhood of man over and above all conflicts," Bartok is quoted as saying.


Milos Forman

Milos Forman, already a leading art-house film director, turned his back on Czechoslovakia and moved to the US after the Prague Spring of 1968. He went on to make two internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning movies: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) and the 1984 period drama film "Amadeus."


Isabel Allende

Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup and died in 1973. His cousin's daughter Isabel (who called him uncle) fled to Venezuela after herself receiving death threats. She later settled in the US. Her novels are internationally-acclaimed classics of magical realism, including the "The House of the Spirits" and "Eva Luna."


Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba - lovingly know as Mama Africa - was on tour in the US when the South African government cancelled the young woman's passport for campaigning against the Apartheid regime and later banned her from returning home. Her song "Pata Pata" was a worldwide hit in 1967. The legendary singer lived in the US and Guinea before she saw her native country again decades later.


Sitting Bull

Sioux leader Tatanka Iyotake - Sitting Bull - is one of the most famous Native American chiefs in history. Did you know he spent a few years as a refugee? In 1877 he fled to Canada, almost a year after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. In 1881, he returned to the US, was taken prisoner, and later returned to a reservation.


Neven Subotic

Like his colleague Vedad Ibisevic of Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga soccer player Neven Subotic - who has just signed for Köln from Dortmund - fled the war in Bosnia as a child. Well aware of hardship, Subotic in 2012 created a foundation to help give people in the poorest parts of the world access to clean water and sanitation.

Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of US programs for the International Rescue Committee aid group, said ahead of the announcement that she was concerned the new screening procedures would add months or even years to the most urgent refugee cases.

Sime said most of those cases involve women and children in "heinous circumstances who need the permanent and proven solution of resettlement."

"With a world facing brutal and protracted conflicts like in Syria, or new levels of displacement and unimaginable violence against the Rohingya — this moment is a test of the world's humanity, moral leadership and ability to learn from the horrors of the past," she said.

Refugees International, an advocacy group, said the decision to bar the 11 countries amounted to "a new and near-total ban on admission of refugees from 11 nationality groups."

aw/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)