President Donald Trump is likely to sign two executive orders by the end of the week that may threaten the already fragile system that seeks to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. One presidential order would halt the U.S. refugee resettlement program, and another would drastically slash funding for organizations like the United Nations.
The U.S. is by far the world’s top funder of the U.N. It gave $1.49 billion to the U.N. Refugee Agency in 2016 ― about one-third of the agency’s total donations.
“This is the funding that gets refugee children in school, provides assistance for refugee parents to get work,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. “It’s the most basic assistance we’re talking about.”
The Refugee Agency’s work has arguably never been so important. There are approximately 65 million displaced people around the world, including 21 million refugees, according to statistics collected by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. This is the most in recorded history, surpassing even World War II.
Trump’s executive orders also could throttle key U.S. alliances, mainly in the Middle East, and play into the hands of militant groups like the so-called Islamic State, some experts said.
“Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Kenya are allies hosting huge numbers [of refugees], and they rely on us to help them,” Nezer said. “It’s a global burden.”
The resettlement of refugees is integral to the U.S. relationship with Jordan, for example. “They allow us to do certain things because we give them certain things,” Nezer said. “Maybe they’ll take something from us if we say no more refugees.”
These kinds of policies would “directly harm our security interests,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was once a refugee herself, said on a call organized by Refugee Council USA on Tuesday. “We need to be doing more, not less, to alleviate the problem. It would also be a gift to ISIS. I have no doubt that they will use this order as propaganda” to support their anti-Western rhetoric.
Failing to provide security and assistance to people in vulnerable situations will force them to continue fleeing, Nezer said. “People will move if you can’t provide basic needs, they will get on boats or do whatever they need to do.”
More than 1 million refugees entered Europe by land and by sea in 2015. While the number fleeing for Europe went down in 2016, more died last year than ever before.
Executive orders like the two that Trump is contemplating, Albright said, are “un-American, unacceptable and damaging in every single way.”