Slam­ming the door - How Trump trans­formed US refugee pro­gram


On Jan. 19, 2017, Aden Has­san’s long wait to start a new life ended when he stepped off a plane in Colum­bus, Ohio, half a world away from the Kenyan refugee camp where he had lived for a decade.

Years ear­lier in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia, Has­san’s fa­ther, a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, was shot dead by the Is­lamist mil­i­tants he op­posed. A few years later, a younger brother and sis­ter were killed by gun­men while walk­ing home from school. Af­ter Has­san’s mother sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, she fled with her sur­viv­ing chil­dren to neigh­bor­ing Kenya.

The Mid­west­ern win­ter chill could not dampen Has­san’s hope, as he left the air­port with his wife, their two young chil­dren and his brother, that Ohio would pro­vide a se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity the fam­ily had not known in years. All that re­mained was for his mother, her sec­ond hus­band, and Has­san’s brother and sis­ter to join them, which refugee of­fi­cials as­sured him would hap­pen soon.

“When we landed at the air­port, we felt we could start a new life,” said Has­san, now 27. “We were very hope­ful, very grate­ful.”

The next day, Don­ald J. Trump was sworn in as US pres­i­dent. Nine­teen months later, Has­san’s mother, Fa­tuma Diriye, a di­a­betic with heart prob­lems, and his other rel­a­tives re­main in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. Al­though they were ap­proved for re­set­tle­ment in the United States at the same time Has­san was, their plans have been re­peat­edly de­layed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dis­man­tling of long­stand­ing US refugee pol­icy. The State Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment on Diriye’s case.

A week af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der tem­po­rar­ily ban­ning travel from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries and halt­ing all refugee ad­mis­sions. Since then, through pro­ce­dural changes made largely out of pub­lic view, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­shaped the US refugee pro­gram, slash­ing over­all ad­mis­sions and all but halt­ing en­try for some of the world’s most per­se­cuted people, in­clud­ing Syr­i­ans, Iraqis, Ira­ni­ans and So­ma­lis.

This year, with a record high 68.5 mil­lion forcibly dis­placed people world­wide, the United States is on track to take in about 22,000 refugees, a quar­ter the num­ber ad­mit­ted in 2016, the last year of Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency, and the fewest in four decades.

In in­ter­views with Reuters, more than 20 cur­rent and former US of­fi­cials de­scribed how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has aban­doned poli­cies es­tab­lished over decades and em­braced by Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions alike.

The of­fi­cials, most of whom spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, say the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­jected in­ter­nal find­ings that refugees could be ad­mit­ted safely and with lit­tle ex­pense. Two se­nior staff mem­bers who ques­tioned the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies were re­moved from their po­si­tions.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­sti­tuted opaque and com­pli­cated new se­cu­rity vet­ting pro­ce­dures that have bogged down ad­mis­sions and elim­i­nated many can­di­dates for re­set­tle­ment who would pre­vi­ously have been ac­cepted, many of the of­fi­cials said.

It has ex­tended the strictest kind of vet­ting to women as well as men from 11 coun­tries, mostly in the Mid­dle East and Africa.

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