Italy: 800 migrants rescued from Mediterranean Sea, two bodies found

The Italian coast guard has said it coordinated the rescue of some 800 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. Seven children with water in the lungs were transferred to a hospital in Tunisia.

An Italian coast guard ship (picture-alliance/SOS MEDITERRANEE/L. Schmid)

Some 800 migrants spotted in five boats were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, the Italian coast guard said in a statement.

Two bodies were recovered during the operation in waters between Italy and Libya, the statement added.

Seven children who had water in their lungs were taken by helicopter to the nearest hospital that could treat them, located in Sfax, Tunisia.

The migrants were picked up from two barges, two rubber dinghies and one small boat in five separate rescue operations.

Read more: Italy approves military mission to curb migration in Niger, North Africa

Watch video07:25

Refugees in Italy as Europe’s new slaves

The Mediterranean remains the world’s most dangerous migration route. Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East have been rescued at sea in recent years and taken to ports in southern Italy, Spain and Greece.

Migrants charged thousands

Migrants remain vulnerable to human traffickers who charge them thousands of euros to board often overcrowded, unseaworthy boats that set off from Libya and other countries for Europe.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 3,116 migrants died or went missing in Mediterranean waters last year. The provisional count for 2018 is 206.

In January alone, 4,742 people have reached Europe by sea, the IOM said, following some 119,000 arrivals last year.

Read more: African migrants in Israel face mass deportation – or imprisonment

The migration issue remains a political hot potato in several EU countries, especially Italy, where a national election will be held on March 4.

After years of migrant arrivals, the ruling Democratic Party has pointed to a sharp fall in newcomers from Libya since July as proof that it is now managing the crisis.

The decline follows a deal with the Tripoli government sealed last February, which foresaw aid and training for the Libyans to fight people smuggling and to bolster their coast guard.

Migration policy is also a key point in German talks to form a new government, with members of the Social Democrats opposed to limits some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc of conservative Christian parties would like to impose.

Watch video06:28

Human trafficking in Turin

mm/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

Fleeing — but not to Europe

Never before have so many people been on the move, migrating in search of jobs and security. Large numbers are coming to Europe, but the majority are on the move elsewhere. DW looks at three examples.

Central american migrants travel on the roof of a train near to the Medias Aguas stretch in Mexico (picture alliance/dpa/Str)

More and more people are leaving their homes in search of a better life for themselves and their families, or to escape unrest, oppression and persecution. The United Nations estimates that some 244 million people around the world no longer live in the country of their birth.

This shows that the number of migrants has risen sharply from around 153 million people in 1990 — and the figure could soon be even higher. A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 160 different countries indicates that around 23 million people are currently preparing to migrate.

Read moreThe Migration Dilemma — ‘We were treated like animals’

East Africa: Traveling by night

There is a widespread misconception that the majority of migrants are bound for Europe. This is not the case. According to the German aid organization Bread for the World, around 90 percent of all refugees live in developing countries, primarily in African states. The majority are internally displaced within their own country, or have fled just across the border. They don’t have the money to travel any further.

A refugee from South Sudan is building a new future for her child after fleeing to Uganda (DW/D. Pelz)A refugee from South Sudan is building a new future for her child after fleeing to Uganda

Many people seek shelter in Ethiopia, for example. It’s ranked fifth in the list of countries worldwide that take in the most refugees. They come primarily from neighboring Somalia, which has been in a state of civil war since the early 1990s.

Watch video03:38

Uganda sets example for progressive refugee policy

According to the United Nations, almost 7 million people there are dependent on humanitarian aid, with 800,000 at risk of famine. More than 1 million Somalis have fled to Ethiopia, and to another neighbor, Kenya, which is now home to the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Another East African country, Uganda, has a generous policy with regard to refugees.This makes it very popular with people fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan, countries rocked by uprisings and civil war. Refugees arriving in Uganda are given a piece of land to cultivate. However, the journey from South Sudan is extremely dangerous. People usually travel by night for fear of running into soldiers. “Every night we pray we will reach Uganda alive,” says one woman in a report published by the aid organization CARE in July.

Central America: Death waits on the riverbank

Migration on the American continent has been in the spotlight again since US President Donald Trump  began calling for a wall to be built along the length of the US-Mexico border. It’s not clear how many people actually cross the border every year. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are around 11 million migrants living in the US without a residency permit. About half of them are from Mexico.

A young man shaves himself at a hostel in Mexico (picture alliance/NOTIMEX/C. Pacheco)A young man shaves at a hostel in Mexico. Despite the dangers, many are still making the journey to the US

Many people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras use Mexico as a transit country. Until 2010 it was primarily young men migrating northwards, but Amnesty International reports that whole families are now on the move, escaping violence by criminal gangs in their home countries.

If they cannot pay traffickers to get them across Mexico, they soon become easy prey for organized criminals. Cartels patrol the riverbanks near the border and attack without mercy, killing refugees to warn off others. It’s not known how many have been murdered in this way, but there have been repeated discoveries of mass graves indicating that this was how the victims died.

The International Organization for Migration reports that in 2017 more than 340 people died in the vicinity of the border. Many were killed by gangs; others drowned, probably while attempting to cross a river. Others still were bitten by snakes or scorpions, or died of thirst in the scorching heat. In many cases the cause of death remains unclear. Human remains are often found, for example in the barren mountains in the south of the US state of Arizona.

Southeast Asia: Helpless at sea

It’s not only the Mediterranean that refugees are attempting to cross in rickety boats. This is also a problem in Southeast Asia. More and more people are trying to flee Myanmar and Bangladesh for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Most are Rohingya, a Muslim minority that is persecuted, tortured and repressed in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.

Since mid-2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. In many instances they were stranded at sea for weeks, because the surrounding states, while prepared to provide the refugees with fuel, water and food, have refused to take them in.

Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar ride on a boat to go to a refugee camp in Bangladesh (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/Zakir Hossain Chowdhury)Rohingya refugees ride on a boat to get to a refugee camp in Bangladesh

These days, human traffickers have also started to take an interest in the refugee route across the Bay of Bengal. Every year, tens of thousands of refugees resort to asking them for help. According to the German charity Stiftung Asienhaus, the traffickers are particularly brutal. They are said to have held refugees captive in the jungle and demanded ransom money, or tortured them on board the boats. Anyone asking for water or food during the crossing was reportedly beaten.

And the crossing can end in death. More than 200 mass graves were found near a camp on the border between Thailand and Malaysia. For the Rohingya, though, staying is not an option. The aid organization Doctors Without Borders recently announced that in one month alone, between the end of August and the end of September, around 6,700 members of the minority group were killed in Myanmar, including large numbers of children.

COURTESY: DW

Slave trade in Libya: Outrage across Africa

Media reports about alleged migrant slave markets in Libya have resulted in strong reactions across the continent. African politicians demand an investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.

Watch video02:38

Slave auctions in Libya

Who’s the highest bidder? 800 Dinar! 1,000 Dinar! 1,100 Dinar! In the end, the winning bid is 1,200 Libyan Dinar – the equivalent of $800 (€680). A done deal; however, this isn’t just any auction for a car or a piece of art. What’s being sold here is a group of frightened young men from Sub-Saharan Africa.

The low-resolution images, apparently taken at a market in Libya earlier in 2017 were shown on the US-based network CNN last week, which looked further into the issue. Journalists working for CNN discovered several such slave markets in the country’s interior, proving what experts had feared for a long time: migrants trying to reach Europe via Libya continue to be subject to abuse.

Heavy criticism across Africa

Politicians in Africa have expressed their outrage at the scandal – especially in West Africa where most African migrants originate. President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou felt particularly revolted by the reports, summoning the Libyan ambassador to Niger and demanding the International Court of Justice investigate Libya for trading slaves.

Ivorian migrants returning home from Libya (DW/J. Adayé)Ivorian migrants returning earlier this week from Libya were reportedly found to be in a “deplorable” state of health

Meanwhile the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, Alpha Barry, told the press that he had also summoned the Libyan ambassador to the capital Ouagadougou for consultations. The issue has since been added to the agenda of next week’s African Union meeting in Ivory Coast, to take place on November 29 and 30.

The issue has made waves in the Ivory Coast itself — 155 Ivorian refugees, including 89 women and underage migrants, were returned from Libya to the Ivory Coast earlier this week as part of a reintegration initiative launched by the European Union. Representatives of the Ivorian government, however, said that the health of those migrants returned from Libya was in a “deplorable state.”

Libya vows to cooperate with UN investigation

Protests meanwhile took place outside the Libyan embassies in several other African capital cities including Bamako, Mali and Conakry, Guinea over the weekend. Another protest is planned in London later this week. A protest outside the Libyan embassy in Paris spilled out into the famous Arc De Triomphe roundabout at the heart of the French capital.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (Reuters/L. Jackson)UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation into the slavery allegations

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in New York on Monday that “slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity,” appealing to the Libyan leadership to investigate these cases and bring those responsible for the slave trade to justice.

He said that he had asked all relevant UN departments to investigate the issue further.

Guterres added that all countries should join the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and sign its 2004 optional protocol on human trafficking. Libya’s internationally recognized government, which is also supported by the UN, has announced that it will launch an investigation. Ahmed Omar Maiteeq, vice chairman of the presidential council of Libya, announced the establishment of a commission to that end.

The foreign ministry in a statement added: “If these allegations are confirmed, all implicated persons will be punished.”

‘Libya was hell’

Most refugees stranded in Libya come from West Africa, from countries such as Nigeria, Guinea, Burkina Faso or Ivory Coast. Additionally, many Eritreans and Somalians are also among those who hope to find a better future in Europe. Oftentimes they use a route crossing Niger’s desert city of Agadez, where they encounter human traffickers, who promise to get them to the Mediterranean Coast and on to Europe. That journey, however, often ends in Libya.

Migrants on trucks in Chad (picture alliance/dpa/D. v. Trotha)On their journeys across Africa, refugees often make themselves completely dependent of human traffickers

“Libya was hell,” says Souleymane, a young migrant from the Ivory Coast. He told DW that he was held captive in the North African country for month. Only by chance did he manage to return home with the help of an initiative launched by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“I had to live in permanent fear of being picked up by a militia group and sold off as a slave.”

Complete dependence

Fighting human trafficking in northern Africa has been a top priority for the UN for years. However, there’s little progress; on the contrary, the practice appears to have intensified in recent years, says Othman Belbeisi, the IOM Chief of Mission in Libya.

Belbeisi told DW that local militias often held refugees for up to three months in dungeons in Libya in order to exploit them: “The problem is that most economic migrants don’t have any kind of documentation on them and therefore do not cross official borders into Libya but rather make themselves completely dependent on people smugglers. It isn’t rare that they end up being kidnapped, and if their ransom isn’t paid they’ll be sold off, tortured or even murdered.”

He added that as long as legal ways of migration into Europe weren’t facilitated, many young Africans would remain motivated to take such risks. According to the IOM, more than 160,000 migrants have so far managed to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year alone. Hundreds of thousands, however, are still waiting to make the sea journey to Europe. Nearly 3,000 refugees died since the beginning of this year on the perilous sea route.

Sandrine Blanchard contributed to this article.

Courtesy: DW

Greek nationalist anger turns to violence against refugees

Years into a refugee crisis, many Greeks continue to resist the integration of asylum seekers stranded in the country. New, far-right extremist groups are taking advantage of the frustration. Anthee Carassava reports.

Group of Golden Dawn protesters

A supreme court prosecutor has ordered an urgent investigation into a violent racist attack against a migrant minor after a new group of far-right vigilantes emerged from obscurity, vowing to chase refugees out of Greece.

The group, calling itself Crypteia, claims to be a modern-day remake of a sort of Hitler Youth of Sparta — a murderous clan of men who roamed the countryside of southern Greece, in ancient times, terrorizing and killing state slaves.

The investigation comes days after members of the hit squad attacked the home of Amir, an 11-year-old Afghan boy and his family in central Athens. Vigilantes used rocks and beer bottles to smash the boy’s bedroom window at 3 a.m., also tossing in a message in Greek that only Amir was able to read.

A smashed windowAmir and his family have been moved to a safe house after this attack on their home

It read: “Go back to your village. Leave.”

The hate crime — considered the first against a migrant minor — has sparked furious reactions from the United Nations and other humanitarian groups concerned that a rising rate of attacks on asylum seekers threatens to transform this once tranquil sun-kissed European nation into a hotbed of throbbing racist discontent.

Division over the treatment of refugees

Watch video01:21

Greek far-right praises Trump entry ban

But in Greece, the latest incident with Amir has triggered a nationwide debate — and division — over whether asylum seekers stuck in the country who wish to leave than stay, should be afforded the same rights as local citizens in the interim.

“There is no question that they should be embraced by all of us, and the state, to help them overcome the violent uprooting that they faced from their homelands,” said Panagiotis Armamentos, a local attorney. “They enjoy refugee status. And we as Greeks should honor that so much more because we too have been migrants and refugees, trying to seek a better life abroad.”

Read more: Refugee crisis further muddies Greek politics

But not all agree. In fact, in a random DW survey of Greeks in a middle class suburb of Athens, Armanentos emerged as the only emphatic supporter of refugee rights. All others appeared sympathetic but then biased and at times discriminatory on emotive, nationalist issues.

“They can eat and sleep here,” says Evangelos Dangalakis, a retired orthodontist. “But beyond that, refugees can not and should not enjoy the same rights as Greeks. They should not be allowed to appropriate Greek symbols and values.”

A Greek coupleEvangelos Dangalakis and his wife don’t want refugees to be afforded the same rights as locals

“A refugee, for example, can not lead a national parade and carry the Greek flag. It’s a right that should be afforded only to Greeks.”

Just days before Amir’s home was stoned, administrators at a state school demonstrated exactly that — stripping the young Afghan of the privileged prize he had won in a lottery organized by his teachers. Eventually, Amir was given a small, nondescript, school sign to carry during the march, instead.

National identity

“And rightly so” says George, leading his girlfriend, Nasia, into a luxury coffee shop in the Athens suburb of Drosia. “My grandfather fought for that flag; her’s was killed trying to defend it. It’s not an issue of racism or discrimination,” said the 37-year-old businessman, refusing to divulge his surname, “but of one of national identity. How can a Muslim hold a flag bearing a cross? And how can any migrant even aspire to enjoy the same rights as the local population when he himself refuses to assimilate, seeing us as a mere stepping stone to another destination.”

Like thousands of refugees who have streamed to Greece from Turkey in the past year, Amir and his family have refused political asylum here, hoping to reach their preferred destination of Germany to reunite with relatives.

Refugees at a protest in AthensMany refugees in Greece are eager to join their families and relatives in Germany

It’s not the first time that Greeks have tried to assert their national identity in the wake of Europe’s refugees crisis. Last year, scores of parents padlocked the gates of primary schools and kept their children from attending classes in one of the biggest and most violent protests to grip northern Greece.

Backed by extreme-right vigilantes, the demonstrations quickly took on strong racist and nationalist tones. Most worryingly, though, they underscored the beleaguered government’s daunting task of managing the integration of more than 62,000 asylum seekers stranded across the country.

Further attacks expected

With migration inflows rising anew, experts have warned of more far-right extremist attacks.

Earlier this year, the Hellenic League of Human rights said in a report that after years of inaction, Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was once again starting to recruit and train anti-migrant hit squads.

Police investigating the attack on Amir and his family suspect that Crypteia is a violent offshoot of Golden Dawn. No arrests or prosecutions have followed. But to protect him against any future attacks, police have relocated the young Afghan and his family to an undisclosed safe house in Athens.

“Unfortunately,” said Armamentos, the attorney and human rights advocate, “this incident has put us all in a bad light. It marks a bad moment for Greece and the Greeks. Something must be done.”

COURTESY: DW

‘Islamic State’ car bomb kills dozens of civilians in Syria: monitor

Scores of displaced people from the latest fighting in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province have been killed in a car bombing. The blast follows the Syrian army’s recapture of the last major city held by the jihadists.

Syrien Krieg - Kämpfe in Deir ez-Zor (Getty Images/AFP)

Saturday evening’s blast struck refugees who had fled the fighting in the oil and gas-rich Syrian province and who had gathered on the east bank of the Euphrates River, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least 75 civilians were killed and many others and some 140 were injured, the monitor said. IS fighters detonated the car bomb at close range, the Observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told news agencies.

Syria’s state news agency SANA later described the blast as a suicide car bombing.

Watch video01:07

Iraq and Syria take last major towns from ‘Islamic State’

The blast happened in an area between the Conoco and Jafra energy fields controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and close to the city of Deir el-Zour, which last week was captured by Syrian regime forces from the “Islamic State” (IS) armed group.

The largest city in eastern Syria, Deir el-Zour is a center for the country’s oil extracting industry.

Read more:US-backed SDF captures Syria’s largest oil field from ‘Islamic State’

Refugees still in danger

Save the Children estimates that 350,000 people have fled the recent fighting in Deir el-Zour.

“The situation in the city, and surrounding countryside, has been especially bleak with civilians trapped between the fighting and all too often caught in the crossfire,” explained Sonia Khush, the charity’s Syria director.

Karte Syrien Deir ez-Zor Englisch (DW)

The Observatory, which gets its information from a network of Syria-based activists, said civilians were stranded on an island on the Euphrates directly facing Deir el-Zour and where some jihadist pockets remained.

IS is facing an onslaught by both Syrian government troops and the SDF alliance for the few remaining areas it controls in eastern Syria.

Read more:‘Islamic State’ suffers major losses in Syria and Iraq

Having been driven from about 96 percent of territory they once captured in Syria and Iraq, the jihadists still control a small stretch inside the war-ravaged country and some desert regions along the Iraq-Syria border.

Last IS areas remain

After taking full charge of Deir el-Zour city, the Syrian army said IS militants were now isolated and encircled in the countryside east of the city.

Meanwhile, Kurdish-led SDF forces were reported to be making fresh gains further north in Deir el-Zour province.

Syrian regime forces, backed by intensive Russian air strikes, are now attempting to retake Abu Kamal, the last urban center controlled by the jihadi group in Syria, and close to the Iraqi border.

Last month, Syrian Kurd-led forces, allied with the US, captured Raqqa, once the de-facto capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria.

Also on Saturday, reports suggested that US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart may discuss a settlement to the 6-year Syrian civil war in the next few days.

Russia’s RIA news agency said the talks could take place on the sidelines of the Asian economic summit in Vietnam.

Washington and Moscow remain on opposing sides in the conflict and ties remain frosty over allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.

mm/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Courtesy: DW

30,000 rejected asylum seekers ‘disappeared’ in Germany, tabloid claims

The German government has admitted that it does not always know the whereabouts of rejected asylum seekers, but argues that the number doesn’t tell the whole truth. The government’s asylum agency faces a file backlog.

Refugees in Germany (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Weigel)

Around 30,000 rejected asylum seekers have simply disappeared from Germany’s records, a German newspaper has claimed, though the government and refugee organizations call the statistical analysis inaccurate and “ridiculous.”

According to a report in Thursday’s mass-circulation daily Bild, the government’s Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR) counted around 54,000 people at the end of 2016 who were obligated to leave the country, but only around 23,000 were claiming state benefits in accordance with the law governing asylum applicants, according to numbers from the Federal Statistical Office.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told Bild, “It can’t be ruled out that individuals obligated to leave the country documented in the foreign nationals register have already left the country or have disappeared without the relevant foreign nationals authority having been made aware of it, or reporting the fact to the AZR.”

Read more: Do refugees travel to their home countries on vacation?

The BAMF (picture alliance/dpa/Geisler-Fotopress)The BAMF said the statistics cited in Bild are misleading

But in response to the Bild report, another Interior Ministry spokesman told DW that the paper’s calculations were based on various false assumptions. “The article fundamentally misunderstands the basic premise that only around 49 percent of all foreign nationals registered in the AZR as obliged to leave are people whose asylum applications have been refused,” the spokesman said in an email. “Apart from rejected asylum seekers, people with expired visas are also often obligated to leave.”

The ministry also said Bild was comparing numbers that had no statistical connection: “Neither all those obliged to leave, nor the group of rejected asylum seekers are entitled to asylum seeker benefits,” the spokesman added.

Watch video01:13

Potential coalition partners divided over asylum seekers

Absurd claim

Bernd Mesovic, director of legal policy at refugees’ rights organization Pro Asyl, said it was ridiculous of Bild to claim that these figures were new or in any way surprising. “This is an ancient story,” he said. “The fact is that one can assume that a lot of people in the AZR have long since left. Just because they’re not there doesn’t mean they’ve ‘gone underground.’ In our experience many people move on at the beginning of the procedure.”

“There are no checks on who has left, unless they’re considered dangerous,” Mesovic added. “People can leave Germany whenever they want, and many don’t register with the authorities when they do.” He also pointed out that many immigrants arrive in Germany and simply tell authorities that they have relatives elsewhere in Europe and then travel there of their own accord.

“I know cases of people who say, ‘I’m sick of waiting in Germany; I’m going back to my country of origin,'” Mesovic said. “There are people who even voluntarily go back to Syria or Afghanistan. They’re not obliged (to tell authorities they’re going anywhere), and it’s hard to check.”

Read more: ‘Returning from Germany’ online portal to boost number refugees leaving voluntarily

Long processing times

This same week, regional newspaper Nürnberger Nachrichten reported that Germany’s central immigration authority, BAMF, is once again struggling to process asylum applications.

Citing an internal BAMF document from mid-October, the newspaper said that while BAMF had been processing around 50,000 cases a month at the beginning of the year, its rate had recently slowed to 15,000-18,000 a month. New cases were now taking up to two months to process, while in January decisions were being made in around 10 days.

The document said BAMF was currently aiming to process another 15,000 asylum applications a month by the end of the year. But the authority is facing a backlog of applications. At the end of 2016 some 430,000 applications had remained untouched. Today, 52,000 old applications are still being processed, some from as far back as 2015. The current target to deal with new applications is three months.

Asylum seekers (Getty Images/S. Gallup)Successful asylum seekers are supposed to take integration classes

Dwindling staff

Despite the ongoing media interest in asylum seekers and immigration procedures, the German government is reducing the number of BAMF personnel: while the agency was employing some 10,000 officials at one point earlier this year, this dipped to 7,800 by September, around half of them on temporary contracts, the regional paper reported.

Similarly, BAMF is currently failing to meet its integration course targets. By September, it had only managed to bring 28,000 asylum seekers onto integration language courses, well below its target of 56,000. While 3,000 people finished the course successfully in September, some 3,000 did not, and a further 9,000 were categorized as “inactive,” having not attended class for nine months.

At the same time, the BAMF document showed it is taking longer for accepted asylum seekers to be given access to a course. On average, it now takes successful asylum seekers 15.2 weeks to be admitted to an integration course after they have received a registration notification, while in January that figure was just 11.7 weeks.

Courtesy: DW

US restarts stricter refugee program, 11 countries still banned

The Trump administration has allowed the resumption of refugee admissions into the US under new stricter screening rules. Arrivals from 11 nations will remain blocked from entry, pending a 90-day review.

Statue of Liberty (Getty Images/D. Angerer)

The US will once again accept refugees after a 120-day ban on admissions lapsed on Tuesday, with new arrivals facing stricter security screening, US officials have announced.

Arrivals from 11 nations will, however, remain blocked from entry, pending a 90-day review on implementing even stricter screening measures. The new state of affairs came after US President Donald Trump signed a presidential decree late Tuesday to replace one that expired that day.

Authorities have declined to specify the 11 countries on the temporary ban list, but said they matched a 2015 list for tougher screening, requiring a “Security Advisory Opinion.”

Read more: US refugee intake slashed to 45,000

Refugee agencies said the affected countries were Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. All but two are Muslim-majority nations. Out of the 53,716 refugees the US accepted in the 2017 financial year, almost half came from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.

Some applicants from those 11 countries will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, “if it’s deemed to be in the national interest and they pose no threat,” a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Read more: Refugees flee US on foot, seek safety in Canada

‘Enhanced’ vetting

Applicants from all countries will face “enhanced” vetting, including more detailed checks of social media posts and connections, said Jennifer Higgins, associate director for refugees at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

“The security of the American people is our highest priority,” she told journalists in a briefing.

Watch video02:06

Travel ban in the US hinders asylum

The measures will also include collecting additional information to better determine whether refugees are being truthful about their status, stationing fraud detection officers at certain locations overseas and improving training for adjudicators who process refugee applications.

In his election campaign, Trump vowed to “stop the massive inflow of refugees” and warned that terrorists were posing as refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.

“Thousands of refugees are being admitted with no way to screen them and are instantly made eligible for welfare and free health care, even as our own veterans, our great, great veterans, die while they’re waiting online for medical care that they desperately need,” Trump said last October.

A program that allows reunification of refugee families has also been placed on hold, according to a Trump administration memo seen by the Reuters news agency and sent to Congress. The program will resume once screening “enhancements have been implemented.”

Trump’s various travel bans have been legally challenged in several cases. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the last remaining challenge to an earlier version of Trump’s travel ban.

Read more: Hawaii judge blocks Trump administration’s latest travel ban

Process will add months or years

Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of US programs for the International Rescue Committee aid group, said ahead of the announcement that she was concerned the new screening procedures would add months or even years to the most urgent refugee cases.

Sime said most of those cases involve women and children in “heinous circumstances who need the permanent and proven solution of resettlement.”

“With a world facing brutal and protracted conflicts like in Syria, or new levels of displacement and unimaginable violence against the Rohingya — this moment is a test of the world’s humanity, moral leadership and ability to learn from the horrors of the past,” she said.

Refugees International, an advocacy group, said the decision to bar the 11 countries amounted to “a new and near-total ban on admission of refugees from 11 nationality groups.”

aw/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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