Washington: The United States announced today it was lifting its ban on refugees from 11 “high-risk” countries, but said those seeking to enter the US would come under much tougher scrutiny than in the past.
Applicants from 11 countries, unnamed but understood to include 10 Muslim-majority nations plus North Korea, will face tougher “risk-based” assessments to be accepted.
“It’s critically important that we know who is entering the United States,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
“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.”
The 11 countries, hit with a ban in October in the Trump administration’s revised refugee policy, have not been identified officially.
But refugee groups say they comprise Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Speaking anonymously, a senior administration official told journalists that the policy of enhanced security assessments for the 11 countries was not designed to target Muslims.
“Our admissions have nothing to do with religion,” the official said, adding that there is “nothing especially novel” about tougher screening for countries deemed to have a higher level of risk.
Donald Trump has pursued a much tougher stance on immigrants and refugees from all countries since becoming president one year ago.
His predecessor Barack Obama set refugee admission in fiscal 2017, which began on October 2016, at 110,000.
When Trump took office a year ago, he slashed that to 53,000, a number that was cut again to a maximum of 45,000 in fiscal 2018.
But refugee arrivals this year could come in significantly lower than that, due to the backlog from the 120-day halt and a slowdown in processing because of generally tougher applicant reviews.
DHS would not explain what the tougher vetting measures for the 11 countries would include.
But all applicants are being asked to supply more detailed histories and evidence of their past activities, and many are having to allow access to personal electronics and social media accounts.
The move comes as Trump presses for a sharp turn in overall US immigration policy that critics say will result in a 50 per cent cut in arrivals each year and bias admissions away from African, Asian and Muslim countries.
Last week, Trump proposed to end the 27-year-old “green card lottery” program that aims to diversify the source of immigrants, leading to an upturn in those from Middle Eastern and African countries.
He also proposed to tightly limit the family members who can join immigrants to only spouses and younger children. Until now, such “chain migration” could extend to immigrants’ parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family.
The White House said the policy was necessary to protect national security from terror and crime threats.
US Congress committee urges India to end communication blackout in Kashmir
India’s communication blackout is having a “devastating impact” on the lives and welfare of the people of Kashmir, a powerful U.S. Congressional Committee has said, urging New Delhi to lift its more than two-month long restrictions in the Valley.
Restrictions were first imposed across Kashmir on August 5 when the Centre announced its decision to revoke all provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Normal life has remained affected in Kashmir for over two months as main markets continue to be shut and public transport off the roads.
Mobile services remain suspended in Kashmir except in Handwara and Kupwara areas in the north, while Internet services — across all platforms continued to be snapped in the Valley since August 5.
“India’s communication blackout in Kashmir is having a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of everyday Kashmiris,” House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a tweet on Monday.
“Its time for India to lift these restrictions and afford Kashmiris the same rights and privileges as any other Indian citizen,” it said.
The House committee comes nearly a month after Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal, along with 13 other US Congressmen, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir and lift the communications blackout.
The Asia-Pacific and Non-Proliferation Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on human rights in Kashmir and other parts of South Asia on October 22.
India has categorically told the international community that its move to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution was an internal matter and has also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.
Pakistan appoints Munir Akram as UN envoy
n a major reshuffle of diplomats, Pakistan on Monday removed Maleeha Lodhi and appointed Munir Akram as the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
The development came merely a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan returned from the US, where he raised the Kashmir issue in his maiden address to the UN General Assembly last week.
“Ambassador Munir Akram has been appointed as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, in place of Dr Maleeha Lodhi,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
However, it gave no reason for her removal.
In his speech that went on for about 50 minutes, far exceeding the 15-minute limit for UN speeches during the General Debate, Khan devoted half of his address to the Kashmir issue, warning that if there’s face-off between two nuclear-armed neighbours, the consequences would be far beyond their borders.
His war rhetoric was in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s peace message from the same podium few minutes earlier in which he said India is a country, that has “given the world, not war, but Buddha’s message of peace.”
Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue after India withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, but New Delhi has asserted the abrogation of Article 370 was its “internal matter”.
The Foreign Office statement said Akram would be stationed at the UN’s New York headquarters.
He is an experienced hand who served as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN from 2002 to 2008.
He was dismissed by the then president Asif Ali Zardari over his disagreement in presenting the case of assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the United Nations.
Akram had also courted controversy after he was accused of domestic violence by his partner, Marijana Mihic, in December 2002 while serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN. The case was reportedly settled out of the court and he was not charged with the crime due to his diplomatic immunity.
Akram specialises in multilateral diplomacy with considerable experience over the years at the UN’s New York and Geneva chapters. He studied at the Karachi University and graduated with a Masters degree in Political Science and a Bachelors in Law, the statement said.
Among other transfers approved by the prime minister include appointment of Khalil Ahmad Hashmi, presently serving as Director General (UN) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), as Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN in Geneva.
Besides, Muhammad Aejaz, Additional Secretary at MoFA, has been appointed as Hungary Ambassador; Syed Sajjad Haider, serving as Charge d’ Affaires in Pyongyang, as Kuwait Ambassador; Imran Ahmad Siddiqui, serving as Consul General in Toronto, as Dhaka High Commissioner; Ahsan KK Wagan, serving as Charge d’ Affaires in Niamey, as Ambassador of Oman; and Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak as Sri Lankan High Commissioner.
Other appointments include Abdul Hamid as Consul General in Toronto and Abrar Hussain Hashmi as Consul General in Houston.
US lawmakers urge PM Modi to lift communications blackout in Kashmir
Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal along with 13 other US Congressmen have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir and lift the communications blackout.
A statement, addressed to Prime Minister Modi, was issued jointly by Congressmen Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr, Judy Chu, Pramila Jayapal, Carolyn Maloney, Gerald Connolly, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, Al Green, Zoe Lofgren, Andy Levin, Mike Levin, James P. McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, and Katie Porter.
“On behalf of thousands of families across the country who have been unable to contact family in Jammu and Kashmir, we are urging Prime Minister Modi to lift the communications blackout and address the ongoing humanitarian concerns,” the lawmakers said in the joint statement.
Restrictions were imposed when New Delhi had on August 5 scrapped the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated in into Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Asserting that the abrogation of Article 370 of its Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was its “internal matter”, India has defended imposition of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley on the grounds that they were put to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists.
“India is an important US partner and the world’s largest democracy. As such, we hope that the Government of India will demonstrate leadership and lift these restrictions. The people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve the same rights as any other citizen of India,” the statement said.
The joint statement, the lawmakers said, is in response to the imposition of media blackout starting August 5, leaving millions in Jammu and Kashmir without access to mobile phones or the internet while many others have been detained.
“As a result, family members in the United States and elsewhere have had no ability to contact loved ones in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to concerns about their welfare,” said the statement, the lead in which was taken by Congressman Cisneros, who is a Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and an Executive Board Member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
The restrictions in Kashmir have been lifted in phases from many parts of the Valley as the situation improved with passage of time.