Yesterday, 27 January, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all refugees, migrants and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries – Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban is grievously discriminatory, effectively targeting and blocking lawful entry into the United States to people on the basis of religion, a practice that is explicitly outlawed in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It is also a direct violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that parties shall accept refugees “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin,” and the 1967 Protocol, of which the United States is a signatory.
At a time when more than 65 million people around the world are displaced by persecution, conflict and mass atrocities, the ban is an affront to the moral principles that the United States has carved in stone on its national monuments. For generations, refugees and asylum seekers have found refuge from persecution in the United States. Yesterday’s executive order is a repudiation of that proud tradition. The ban especially targets 4.8 million Syrian refugees, who represent one of the most vulnerable populations on earth, denying them any possibility of entering the United States.
For more than five years the people of Syria have suffered war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian government, and enabled by their Russian and Iranian allies. Syrian civilians have also faced beheading, execution and even crucifixion by armed extremist groups like Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the so-called Islamic State. These crimes under international law have been widely documented by the UN’s independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The United States has a responsibility to protect the men, women and children who have fled these atrocities, not to scapegoat, arbitrarily block and illegally bar them from its shores.
The fact that President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” was promulgated on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is especially egregious. The Nazi’s mass murder of 6 million Jews, along with Roma and other targeted victims, was the moral nadir of the twentieth century. In remembering the Holocaust we not only acknowledge its specific origins in murderous anti-Semitism, but also that it was a product of discriminatory laws and exclusionary policies. The fact that so many Jewish victims of the Holocaust were refused asylum in the United States and other countries during the 1930s is a source of enduring shame.
Seventy-two years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the Holocaust continues to provide essential lessons regarding human rights and practices that violate human dignity. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect will continue working with our civil society colleagues in the United States and raise this issue at the United Nations and beyond, until such time as President Trump’s shameful and illegal ban on Muslims is repudiated and rescinded.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA