President Trump’s administration announced on Monday that it will resume admissions of refugees from “high risk” countries to the United States including North Korea, Syria and Iraq, but will implement extra vetting for those from Middle Eastern and African nations.
The changes follow a 90-day review of refugee admissions from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen by the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.
The new rules are the latest changes to the US refugee program made by the administration of President to address what it sees as national security issues. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to implement “extreme vetting” and reduce refugee migration into the United States.
“The big picture is that there is no longer a refugee pause on countries, including the 11 high-risk countries, with these measures taking effect,” another senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters. “We’ll be resuming admissions with the new security measures in place.”
During the briefing, officials said refugees will not be barred from admission to the United States solely on the basis of nationality.
Although all the nations except for North Korea and South Sudan are majority-Muslim, an official was quoted by the Washington Post as saying high risk determination for the 11 countries “has nothing to do with religion”.
The new measures include additional interviews with the families of refugees seeking resettlement, as well as investigation of their potential ties to organised crime and terrorism.
“These additional security measures will make it harder for bad actors to exploit our refugee program, and they will ensure we take a more risk-based approach to protecting the homeland,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, as quoted by the Post.
In an address at the Wilson Center on Monday morning, Nielsen spoke about the new security measures, saying they “seek to prevent the program from being exploited by terrorists, criminals and fraudsters.”
Refugee advocates said they worry the new security measures will block refugees from the 11 countries from admission to the United States.
“Adding yet more hurdles to an already overly bureaucratic process will burden those seeking safety for themselves and their families,” Amnesty International USA said in a statement.
For each of the last three years, refugees from the 11 countries made up more than 40 percent of US admissions. Since Oct 25, the day the 90-day review went into effect, 46 refugees from the 11 countries have been allowed into the United States, according to State Department data.