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Trump turns back on Somali refugees fleeing terrorism and famine

Nurse in Somalia measures child for malnutrition signs.

A revived and revised travel ban issued by the Trump administration on Monday temporarily suspended refugee resettlement and visa processing for people from six countries. It also halves the number of refugees resettled for the fiscal year to 50,000. The order significantly affects Somalia where instability has created roughly 1 million refugees over the past three decades.

It comes at a moment when a famine declaration in parts of Somalia is a near certainty. The prime minister reported Saturday that 110 people died over the previous 48 hours due to “droughts and acute watery diarrhea.” Earlier in the week, Somalia’s new president declared the ongoing drought and national disaster and asked for assistance in order to “to avoid a humanitarian tragedy.”

As the situation gets worse, more people are likely to flee the country for humanitarian assistance. More than 6.2 million people are in need of aid, says the U.N. The number of acutely malnourished children could rise from 330,000 today to 1 million.

Famine warnings for the country draw parallels to 2011 when more than 250,000 people died. The head of the U.N. António Guterres arrived in Somalia this morning and called for the international community to prevent ” a repetition of the tragic events of 2011,” according to the New York Times. His Twitter account shared a similar sentiment:

Some 140 Somali refugees set to resettle in the U.S. were sent back after the administration signed the first version of the order. It came on the heels of the unsuccessful attempt by the Kenyan government to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp situated near the border with Somalia, home to more than 250,000 refugees. Kenyan courts ruled the plan was unconstitutional in February.

The prospects for the 15,000 Somali refugees awaiting resettlement in the U.S. are not promising. They now wait at least 120 days for the administration to review the process. Even if it is not extended, there are only 15,000 refugee spots remaining. That leaves thousands stuck in limbo given that Somali refugees accounted for 10 percent of total refugees resettled in the U.S. in 2016.

Refugees International (RI) condemned the order stating that not was not the time for the U.S. to retreat from the world’s stage.

“The Executive Order diminishes the standing of U.S. diplomats as they work to respond to a wide range of crises and disasters, and, as a result, will undermine the effectiveness of any U.S. emergency response, potentially putting thousands of lives at greater risk,” said the group in a statement. “While RI held out hope that a more humane approach to refugees would prevail within the Trump administration, the president has again barred the victims of war, violence, and persecution from finding protection within the United States. RI continues to reject the blanket prohibition of refugees and any significant reduction in refugee resettlement numbers.”

The executive order issued in late January was put on hold after successful court challenges. The retooled version removes Iraq from the temporarily banned list, cuts language adding exceptions for minority groups and reduces the Syrian refugee hold from indefinite to 120 days. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the media that the order would ensure national security and prevent terrorism. Human rights groups condemned the new order saying it targets Muslim-majority countries.

“This replacement order is the same hate and fear with new packaging,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, in a statement. “It will cause extreme fear and uncertainty for thousands of families by, once again, putting anti-Muslim hatred into policy. No amount of editing can make this executive order anything but what it is – blatant bigotry. There are real threats to security, but this bigoted order will do nothing to make the country safer.”


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]