Trump's plans to close Refugee Resettlement Program are inhumane

Trump's plans to close Refugee Resettlement Program are inhumane
Comment: With a single stroke of his pen, Trump plans to close the US Refugee Resettlement Program, bringing anguish to a region he cannot hope to understand, writes Monique Bouffe.
7 min read
27 Jan, 2017
A child refugee during a demonstration in Athens in solidarity with the Women's March [AFP]

At same time Donald Trump was born, in June 1946, the British and Egyptian governments were hosting the Administrative Conference in Khartoum, Sudan.

This event would eventually lead to the rule of Omar al-Bashir over Sudan, a despot whose position would lead to the torture and persecution of thousands of innocent people, forcing them to flee and seek safety in neighbouring countries. 

In deliberate ignorance of the history he has lived alongside, President Trump plans to close the Refugee Resettlement Program out of fears of "terrorism", ensuring that the US will no longer welcome refugees and integrate them into its nation.

Having already put a temporary halt on the interviews the program's staff conduct with refugees who hope to reach the US, Trump has - within less than a week of his presidency - completely isolated the country that was once known as the "melting pot" of the world.

The "refugee crisis" is usually framed by the media as a phenomenon in which people, mostly Syrian, are fleeing their country due to war and poverty. As a result, it conjures images of crowds - all Muslim - desperately throwing themselves onto dinghies in the hope of reaching the golden shores of Europe.

This simplistic, dehumanising portrayal contributes to the reasons why Donald Trump can get away with removing one of the only positive tools at the disposal of refugee rights groups.

In deliberate ignorance of the history he has lived alongside, President Trump plans to close the Refugee Resettlement Program

Syrians do make up a significant number of refugees, but not all refugees are Syrian. And although I do not need to repeat the horrors that Syrians have had to face over the past few years, the focus on their struggle deflects attention from the horrific and varied persecution that is happening in each refugee-producing country.

The majority of refugees who are being hosted by countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, are non-Syrian refugees, include Somali, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and many others. They are not "economic migrants" as many news sources will tell you.

When we talk about refugees living in Jordan, this includes South Sudanese women who have been forced to watch their children being gang raped by militias. It includes 14-year-old Somali girls who have been abducted from their parents by Al-Shabab and forced to serve as wives. It includes Eritrean boys who have left the country in fear of being placed into lifelong military servitude.

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It includes Oromo Ethiopians who have been beaten daily in cages crammed with others for attempting to exercise their right to peacefully protest being forced off their homelands. It includes Sudanese men who have been arrested on false claims of terrorism and placed in a dirty cell with minimal food and water for several months and had police whip their testicles whilst inserting Pepsi bottles into their anus.

This is the reality of the millions of people who have fled their country. Western media has utterly failed in its responsibility to recognise it. But what is perhaps worse, is that we have failed to recognise their abilities. These are people who have kept the capacity for kindness, for laughter, and the ability to love each other in a way that flies in the face of the hate and terror they have lived through.

Life in their host countries is a daily struggle, but they get up every day, try to find work, cook dinner, celebrate birthdays, celebrate Eid. Despite being denied work visas and facing daily harassment and attacks, they continue to make each other's lives worthwhile. They are people who, above all else, have fought to survive, in a way that large swathes of Europeans and Americans cannot begin to comprehend.

We are talking about people who absolutely require resettlement in order to stay alive

Once fleeing their country of origin, refugees have to be recognised by UN Agencies in the Middle East before they can be resettled to the US. It is hard for me to fully describe how bad life is in the Middle East for most refugees. Aside from not being able to legally support themselves, or find housing, the attacks and the discrimination they face is unbearable, and many find their treatment in their new countries not much safer than home.

The resettlement program that Donald Trump plans to close, is the only hope that refugees who are stuck in the Middle East have, to find safety elsewhere. However, because quotas from countries are so small, the UN Refugee Agency only picks the refugees who are in the most extreme, imminent life-threatening situations to qualify.

Once selected, a refugee has to wait another two to three years whilst the FBI does high level checks to make sure they have never committed any sort of crime or morally dubious behaviour in their life. The US has one of the strongest vetting systems in the word, and many do not make it through, or survive the waiting period. But as it is the only safe option for getting out, it is a hope which every refugee in the region shares.

Let's be clear here. When Donald Trump closes the US resettlement program, he will not be preventing "terrorists" from entering the US. He is condemning children suffering from leukemia who cannot receive treatment in Lebanon to die, and families who are at constant risk of assassination by gangs in Egypt to be killed.

We are talking about people whose lives are at the point of desperation, who pose absolutely no risk to the US government, who would be proud to call themselves a citizen of the United States, and who absolutely require resettlement in order to stay alive.

Trump now plans to remove the only existing programme to help refugees make a new life for themselves

It is an unfortunate reality that the US currently covers about 90 percent of all resettlement. And while that is shameful for the European States that could take in their share of refugees and simply don't, the impact of the US closing their program entirely without encouraging other states to take over would be colossal.

The millions of individuals, who all have different histories, different occupations, different dress sense, different music tastes, and are simultaneously all classed under the banner of "refugee," are more deserving of love and acceptance than anyone else in this world.

Trump now plans to remove the only existing programme to help refugees make a new life for themselves; one where they can find respect and humanity again. By doing this, he has taken away the hope of millions from people who deserve to make a new life for themselves. He has invalidated their struggle, classed them as criminals, and removed their humanity with one thoughtless stroke of his pen.

Trump has said that this would be a temporary move, to increase the security of the US's vetting process. But given that the US already has the most stringent vetting process of all countries accepting refugees, it is unclear how temporary this will be.

In doing so, Trump would be condemning a region to continue to take in the millions of people who are forced to leave their homes every day. The governments of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran do not have the resources or the willpower to provide for these people.

They cannot provide housing, they cannot provide welfare, and they cannot manage the refugee registration process without the assistance of UNHCR. As well as hurting individuals, Trump will be directly harming all of the governments in the region, forced to bear the crisis alone. This truly is "America First".

Monique Bouffé is a legal scholar and advocate with a focus on Public International Law.

She has worked with asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt and is currently working with vulnerable and gang affected young people in London. Her work focuses on the impact of European immigration policy on the current refugee crisis.

Follow her on Twitter: @moniquebouffe

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.