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Humanitarian Organizations React To Trump's Immigration Order


And now we're going to talk specifically about refugees. Under the new rules, Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely. And those from other countries have to wait 120 days before trying to enter the United States. David Miliband is the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. And he joins us on the line. Thank you so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, sir, your reaction.

MILIBAND: I think that America has long been a haven for refugees as well as immigrants. And it's a very sad day when, within shouting distance of the Statue of Liberty, a court has to prevent the deportation of people who have served with the American military because a presidential court order is trying to keep them out of the country. I think there are two other very important points for your listeners.

The first is that there are 60,000 refugees around the world who've been through the vetting process, the quite severe security-vetting process that already exists to screen out people before they're admitted as refugees. And they are put in limbo by the presidential order. Of course, that's a very small proportion of the total 25 million refugees around the world.

The second point is that there was a propaganda gift in the executive order for those who would do damage to the United States. ISIS want nothing more than to be able to say to Muslims around the world that America doesn't want them. And I'm afraid that this executive order plays into their hands.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask specifically about your organization. There's been a lot of confusion since this order was signed. How is your organization reassessing its priorities?

MILIBAND: So we are an international humanitarian-aid organization working in 30 countries. We helped about 23 million people last year with water and sanitation, with health care, with education. But we're also a resettlement agency, a refugee resettlement agency in 29 U.S. cities. We honor the history of the U.S. We were founded by Albert Einstein just before the second world war to help rescue Jews from Europe and allow them to find safe haven in the U.S. We're New York-based.

We are obviously working on two fronts. First of all, we want to maintain the services that we provide internationally because most refugees are stuck around the world in countries, either bordering conflict or on transit routes from there on. But we're also determined to make the case that refugee resettlement has been an American success story.

Sixty thousand Cubans we've resettled - just the IRC - since 1960. The founder of Intel, Andy Grove, was resettled by the IRC in 1956. And right up to this Friday, when I was in Silver Spring, Md., I met new refugees from Syria, from Iran - actually a Christian from Iran who we'd resettled.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is this going to change your attitude, though?

MILIBAND: Well, we are, at the moment, determined to make the case that the review period that is underway involving, we hope, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Department of Defense, recognizes that the security-vetting system that the United States has is already a serious one and a severe one.

We argue that the executive order is founded on a myth, which is that there is no security vetting. There is security vetting. It's an average of 12 to 18 months. It involves biometric testing. And so, of course, we have to work with whatever the U.S. State Department, who are ultimately the funders of these programs, desired. But we also want to use the next 120 days or 90 days to make the case that this is an American success story.

I'd make one other point to you. It's not a tenable situation for people to be detained in their dozens at airports, never mind to be stopped in their thousands around the world at airports and at embassies. This policy needs to be addressed urgently because it's in grave danger of spiraling out of control.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee - he joined us via Skype - thanks so much for being with us.

MILIBAND: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.