A UN Official (Correctly) Calls Trump’s New Travel Ban “Collective Punishment”

New travel restrictions imposed by the United States hurts ordinary people for one reason only: their nationality.

Jan Egeland is the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations. He is also the former top UN humanitarian relief official and also currently serves as the chair of a UN-backed task force charged with facilitating humanitarian access to Syria.

In other words, he is someone with a deep background in humanitarian affairs who is currently responsible for a key part of a massive relief operation that is keeping Syrian civilians alive in the midst of a horrendous civil war.

This is what he says about the newest travel ban–and he’s is right.

Yemen and Syria are two of the seven countries covered in this new order. The others include Somalia, Chad, Iran, North Korea and some Venezuelans. The order does not include refugees, but rather traditional migrants or visitors to the United States. Still, on top of the Trump administration’s sharp reduction of refugee admissions the message that this new ban sends to the people of these countries is unambiguous.

The ban makes it all but impossible for Syrians or Yemenis to migrate to the United States, not because of any individual fault, but because of their nationality.

The Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced 11 million people. Yemen does not get the same international attention as Syria, but the situation there is particularly egregious.

At a briefing to reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week, Jamie McGoldrick, the top UN Humanitarian Official in Yemen, painted a profoundly bleak picture of life in Yemen today. Yemenis, even if they wanted to, cannot leave their country because Saudi forces have closed the main airport in the capitol city to all commercial traffic. Meanwhile, the world’s worst cholera outbreak will likely sicken half a million people by the end of the year, and much of the country faces famine. “400,000 kids under age of 5 are acute malnourished…those skeletal kids you see,” said McGoldrick.  “That number is growing.” He added later, “There is no hope on the horizon for the humanitarian situation.” 

Under normal circumstances, countries like the United States would show solidarity of the people of countries suffering under from this kind of calamity. But the opposite is happening. The government of the United States is expressing a profound antipathy towards ordinary citizens caught up in this violence. It will now be all but impossible for them to go to school in the United States, or accept a job offer, or attend a professional development conference, or get a specialized medical treatment. This is not because of anything they have done as individuals, but simply because of their nationality.

This new order cuts off yet one more chance for Syrians, Yemenis and nationals of these other countries seeking a change in their circumstances. Ordinary people who live in countries made extremely dangerous by a combination of terrorism and war are being refused by the United States only because of their nationality.  This is collective punishment.