An anti-immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, the US, on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
An anti-immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, the US, on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

New York — Global opposition to US President Donald Trump's immigration policy intensified on Sunday as world leaders condemned the move to temporarily limit immigration from what are predominantly Muslim countries, while Germany pledged to play a bigger role on the international stage.

World leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised Trump and said their nations would not change their immigration policies.

"We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking," May said on Sunday in a statement, two days after meeting Trump to begin work on a trade accord.

The growing condemnation exposed dividing lines with US allies and was not limited to the world of politics: Netflix’s chief executive officer said the changes were "un-American", while Alphabet’s Google advised staff who may be impacted by the order to return to the US immediately.

Trump’s move was stymied on Saturday when two judges temporarily blocked his administration from enforcing the order that would have led to the removal from US airports of refugees, visa holders and legal US residents from the seven countries.

Trump defended his order. "It’s not a Muslim ban," he said in the Oval Office. "We were totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It’s working out very nicely."

But airports around the world scrambled to enforce the order, at least a dozen people were being held at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport, including 10 Iranians, their lawyer said. Officials there did eventually release Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who had worked for the US military in Iraq, after he was detained. Another Iraqi was also released.

Governor of Virginia Terence McAuliffe warned it endangered the lives of US military personnel abroad.

Trudeau, in a tweet, said Canada would welcome those fleeting "persecution, terror and war. Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith."

A similar message was sent by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said refugees deserved a safe haven regardless of their background or religion.

Merkel expressed her concerns about a ban during a call with Trump on Saturday, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Twitter post on Sunday. Merkel is convinced that the fight against terrorism did not justify putting people from a specific place of origin or religion under general suspicion.

Merkel last week said Germany would continue to pursue a global agenda.

On Twitter, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif promised reciprocal measures, though he said anyone with a valid visa would be welcomed "unlike the US". The official Islamic Republic News Agency website said Teheran "will reciprocate with legal, consular and political undertakings". The ban was a "visible insult to" to Muslims, the agency said.

‘Shameful’

London mayor Sadiq Khan on Facebook called the ban "shameful and cruel" and said the new policy "flies in the face of the values of freedom and tolerance that the USA was built upon."

Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox said on Twitter the executive order had "united the world" against Trump.

Under the order, the admission of refugees would be suspended for 120 days. Citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya would be banned from entering the US for 90 days, while the government determined what information it needed from other countries to safely admit visitors. The order did not list the countries, but pointed to laws that covered those seven, which were provided by the White House.

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US Democrats labeled it a "Muslim ban" and criticised it as inhumane. Absent from the order was a provision from a draft of the document, obtained by Bloomberg, that would have required the Defence Department to make a plan to create "safe zones" in Syria and neighbouring countries for people fleeing that nation’s civil war.

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, likened the ban to the country’s slow response to the Holocaust prior to US entry into the Second World War. "Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the USnited States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide and terror," Durbin said in a statement calling Trump’s order a "ban on Muslims in the US.

"During the Holocaust we failed to fulfil our duty to humanity," he said. "We cannot allow mindless fear to lead us into another regretful chapter in our history."

Christian Refugees

State Department data show that 34 Syrian Christian refugees were admitted into the US in the fiscal year that ended September 30, and 39 so far in the current fiscal year. By comparison, 12,486 Muslim Syrians were admitted in fiscal 2016 and 4,772 so far this year.

Friday, January 27 2017
Friday, January 27 2017

Syria is a majority Muslim nation, and US officials say Christians fleeing the country’s civil war have largely wound up at refugee processing centers in areas the US government considers unsafe to work in.

Trump’s order would require the government "to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution." Only people who are religious minorities in their countries would be eligible.

"There are Christians being processed, and processed at the same percentage at that which they apply for the program," Lavinia Limon, president and chief executive officer of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, an advocacy group, said in a phone interview. "So they’re moving through the process exactly in the same percentage."

Bloomberg

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