Trump executive orders seek to cut U.N. funding and refugee support

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Trump administration is looking to make major cuts to international institutions, including the United Nations, and place a ban on refugees fleeing war in majority-Islamic counties, according to two leaked drafts of upcoming executive orders.

The draft order “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” would cut voluntary support from the U.S. to international bodies by at least 40 percent. It calls for a yearlong examination by a review panel into U.S. agencies that support international organizations. On the list of agencies: the State Department, Pentagon, Justice Department and others.

A second draft order sets out a series of new immigration rules. People from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are not allowed entry to the U.S. for a month. Syrian refugees are blocked entirely. It also suspends refugee admissions for 120 days in order for a review of the current screening process. Finally, it cuts refugee admissions from 110,000 in 2017 to 50,000. Together, the rules would leave thousands of refugees seeking safety in the U.S. in limbo.

The first order is shaped around the “compelling national interest” of international spending. The administration singled out the the U.N. for an investigation. An explanatory statement in the draft order zeroes in on the billions of dollars the U.S. contributes to the U.N. and its agencies. It cites the fact that the U.S. is responsible for nearly a quarter of the body’s budget as a reason for concern.

“This financial commitment is particularly burdensome given the current fiscal crisis and ballooning national deficits and national debt. And while the United States’ financial support for the United Nations is enormous, the United Nations often pursues an agenda that is contrary to American interests,” according to the statement.

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The impact of the order, if it is signed as written in the draft, is uncertain. There is a vague call for the review panel to “recommend at least 40 percent overall decrease in the amount of overall funding of voluntary contributions.” It could mean cuts to support international peacekeeping missions and affect major U.N. humanitarian agencies, like UNICEF and the World Food Program.

A series of specific funding prohibitions are ordered, though many of those rules are already in force, such as not funding agencies that give membership to the Palestinian Authority.

In other areas, it goes further. The prohibition includes “the performance of abortion or sterilization as a method of family planning” – a virtual extension of the Global Gag Rule that Trump brought back into force this week and something that would directly affect funding to the U.N. Population Fund.

The agency is mentioned by name as one of the organizations that the review committee will audit. Its mission is to provide family planning support to families – including access to safe abortions in countries where they are legal. It is also a vital part of global efforts to reduce underage marriages, eliminate female genital mutilation and reduce maternal mortality. A funding cut would significantly hamper those efforts, abandoning already-vulnerable women and girls.

Legislative bills introduced in both the House and Senate also seek to limit U.S. funding to the U.N. It is the latest in a series of attempts to limit or eliminate U.S. support for the international body. The potential for either bill to pass through Congress is low as long as the Democrats, who largely support the institution, can filibuster in the Senate.

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The refugees draft order would be a major blow to refugee resettlement attempts. The second-largest group refugees resettled in the U.S. last year were from Syria. Banning all Syrian refugees would leave more than 10,000 people without new homes. It is a small number relative to the refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe, but significant for the people who are not resettled.

Aid groups say the damage of the proposed program is far-reaching.

“The reality is that the U.S. refugee resettlement program saves lives – namely of women and children under 12, who make up 67 percent of the Syrian refugees in the U.S. – while helping to ensure the safety of our country,” Carolyn Miles, head of Save the Children, said in a statement. “Refugees already go through extensive vetting: a refugee’s identity is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases of at least five federal agencies, a process that takes nearly two years. If there is any doubt about who a refugee is, he or she is not admitted to the United States.”

The two orders come at a time when the U.N. launched a record humanitarian appeal. Most of the $22.2 billion needed for 2017 is due to the Syrian civil war and insecurity in the countries singled out by the Trump refugee order. The U.N. is a crucial part of the humanitarian response to provide relief for people suffering from hunger, illness and violence. A withdrawal of U.S. funding would significantly affect the global humanitarian effort that already suffers from a severe lack of funds.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.