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'Brink of Catastrophe' as Trump Muslim Ban Keeps Refugees in Limbo

"These are families who put their trust in the United States at their most desperate hour."

Syrian refugees are seen outside their makeshift tents at an agricultural field where they set camp in Saadnayel in the Lebanese Bekaa valley on December 12, 2012.

Syrian refugees are seen outside their makeshift tents at an agricultural field where they set camp in Saadnayel in the Lebanese Bekaa valley on December 12, 2012. (Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump's near-total ban on immigration to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries, known colloquially as the "Muslim ban," is having widespread negative effects on refugees in the Middle East, according to a new report from Amnesty International. 

In the new reportThe Mountain is in Front of Us and the Sea is Behind Us, Amnesty interviewed nearly 50 refugees stuck in Lebanon and Jordan due to the Trump administration's Muslim ban. Hundreds of families from war-torn regions of the Arab world, from Sudan to Syria, are "locked in an impossible limbo" waiting for the U.S. government to act either way on their asylum applications. 

"These are families who put their trust in the United States at their most desperate hour, and now find themselves on the brink of catastrophe through absolutely no fault of their own," Amnesty researcher Denise Bell said in a statement

One refugee interviewed by Amnesty, named in the report as "Malik," has been waiting to go to the U.S. from Beirut after fleeing Baghdad with his family for fear of religious persecution due to their Christian faith. As Malik told Amnesty, he tried to do everything the right way, but it didn't matter:

Malik's family had gone so far as to complete trainings to prepare for their new lives in the U.S. after his case was approved. Since the Muslim Ban was signed in 2017, his case has been held up due to what he is told are "security checks," even though it was previously approved.

When asked what he would say if he could speak with President Trump, Malik said, "We are refugees. We're human refugees. We're refugees because there are difficult situations that made us flee . . . Please, so that we're able to live. We want to live; we want to live in peace."

The Trump administration has cut refugee intake into the country by 71 percent over the last three years, and for Syrian refugees, the reduction is even higher. As the report notes, "at the end of April 2019, only 219 Syrian refugees had arrived to the United States from Jordan and Lebanon this calendar year, putting the USA on pace to resettle just over 650 by the end of 2019. In contrast, in calendar year 2016, 11,204 Syrian refugees were resettled to the USA from Jordan and Lebanon."

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The administration's attack on refugees is a growing problem for human rights, said Amnesty grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist Ryan Mace. Mace called on Congress to hold the White House accountable and to use the opportunity provided by the report to press for better protections for those affected by the policies. 

"Congress must do its job and hold the Trump administration accountable to refugees," Mace said. "This means rejecting the president's proposed devastating cuts and instead providing life-saving humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced populations."

"The administration must ensure that the United States does not discriminate against refugees based on how they worship or where they come from," Mace added. 

As Amnesty points out, it's not just the refugees in Lebanon and Jordan who are suffering. The entire program has been slowed down by the White House. 

The U.S. has historically resettled the largest number of refugees annually from around the world. Since the modern U.S. Refugee Assistance Program was established in 1980, the average number of persons being resettled each fiscal year was 80,000. This changed in 2017 when one of President Trump's first acts in office was to cut the refugee admissions goal from 110,000, which President Obama set in his last year in office, to 45,000—the lowest refugee admissions cap ever set to that point. Barely 22,000 refugees were resettled by the end of FY 2018—the lowest number admitted in the history of the program. Under the current U.S. administration, refugee resettlement has dropped 71 percent in three years.

Amnesty hopes to convince the administration to take in 30,000 refugees in total in 2019 and increase that number to 95,000 in 2020. 

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