USA: refugees in Lebanon and Jordan still trapped in limbo by Trump's travel ban - new report

Nearly 50 people speak of their predicament, including Syrian family who could be forced to return to war-ravaged Syria 

‘These are families who put their trust in the United States at their most desperate hour’ - Denise Bell

A new report from Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan still trapped in limbo two-and-a-half-years after the imposition of Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The report, “The Mountain is in Front of Us and the Sea is Behind Us,” which is based on nearly 50 interviews conducted by Amnesty USA in Lebanon and Jordan, describes often desperate circumstances. 

One of these is Ahmed Amari* (name changed for reasons of safety) and his family, Syrian refugees who fled to Beirut in 2013. They registered as refugees with the United Nations refugee agency in 2014, and were told to prepare for their new home in Virginia in December 2016. When President Trump signed the travel ban in January 2017, Ahmed was told to wait until the ban was over before his case could proceed. 

Two-and-a-half years later, Ahmed is still waiting and will soon lose his residency status in Lebanon, exposing him and his family to the risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and forcible return to Syria. The carpet store where he works is due to close and it is extremely difficult to find work in the country without a residency permit. 

In another case, Malik,* who fled from Baghdad to Beirut with his wife and two sons after fearing for their lives because of their Christian faith, is similarly trapped in the Lebanese capital with his previously-approved move to the USA now on hold because of “security checks”. When asked what he would say if he could speak to President Trump about his plight, Malik said:

“We are refugees. We're human refugees. We're refugees because there are difficult situations that made us flee … Please, so that we're able to live. We want to live; we want to live in peace.” 

Amnesty’s report shows that the travel ban has decimated refugee resettlement from Lebanon and Jordan, which host the highest number of refugees in the world relative to their populations. The report also shows the devastating effects of the ending of US funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. 

Denise Bell, Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher at Amnesty International USA, said: 
 
“These are families who put their trust in the United States at their most desperate hour, and now find themselves on the brink of catastrophe through absolutely no fault of their own.

“They have already made the wrenching decision to leave their homes and are now bearing the discriminatory impacts of US policies. Their situation is only getting worse. The US government must live up to its promise to these families and countless other refugees. It has a responsibility to protect refugee rights, and turning its back on refugees is one more abysmal abdication of its obligations.

“Refugees are not a threat, and refugees are not just numbers.

“Refugees are women, men and children with unique stories to tell. We talked to teachers, artists, engineers, labourers, and homemakers - people like you and me and everyone we know. All they want is what any person in their situation would want - safety, a place to call home, work to support themselves, and education for their children. They just want to live with dignity.”

Refugee admissions slashed

The US has historically resettled large numbers of refugees annually. Since the US Refugee Assistance Programme was established in 1980, the average number of persons being resettled each fiscal year was 80,000. This changed in 2017 when one of President Trump’s first acts in office was to cut the refugee admissions goal from 110,000, which President Obama set in his last year in office, to 45,000 - the lowest refugee admissions cap ever set up to that point. Barely 22,000 refugees were resettled by the end of fiscal year 2018 - the lowest number admitted in the history of the programme. Under the current US administration, refugee resettlement has dropped 71% in three years.

Amnesty’s report calls on the US to hold to the goal of admitting at least 30,000 refugees in the federal year 2019, and to increase the goal to at least 95,000 in 2020.

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