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David Miliband Calls Trump's Revised Travel Ban 'A Gift For Extremists'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When the Trump administration released its first travel ban in January, David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee called it a very sad day. The Court suspended that plan. This week, the Trump administration issued a revised order, and Mr. Miliband now joins us once again via Skype from Iraq to discuss whether anything has improved. Welcome to the program.

DAVID MILIBRAND: Hello, Ari. It's good to be with you again.

SHAPIRO: Your new press release calls this latest order counterproductive and cruel. Is there anything in it that you find improved over the last order?

MILIBRAND: Well, I think it's certainly a good thing that there is no longer an indefinite ban on Syrians coming to the United States as refugees. But that is seriously counterbalanced by the fact that 60,000 people are stuck in limbo having passed through the vetting system and now being told that their passport to come to the U.S. is no longer valid, their visa to come to the U.S. is no longer valid.

SHAPIRO: When we look at the refugee situation globally, there are an estimated 25 million refugees around the world. And the U.S. has now reduced its annual cap from 110,000 to 50,000 refugees in a given year. It's like going from a drop in the bucket to half a drop in the bucket. So when the numbers are actually so, so small, why does this reduction even matter?

MILIBRAND: You're right. This is a time of historic refugee crisis. I'm speaking to you from Iraq, where there are refugees from Syria and also massive internal displacement from the assault on Mosul to try to remove ISIS from control in Mosul. So this is a particularly bad time to be reining back on support for refugees.

And secondly, for countries like Jordan and Lebanon - and having just come from Lebanon, which is a country of only four-and-a-half million people with 1.4 million refugees, the idea that America is saying it can't even take 100,000 sticks in the gullet not just of the refugees, but also, frankly, of people who are ready to be allies of America in Lebanon but now see America turning its back on them.

SHAPIRO: And so it sounds as though you're saying this could have implications beyond travel and refugees, to international alliances and whether countries would support the United States in other areas.

MILIBRAND: This is a propaganda gift for extremists who want to go around the world and tell Muslims that America doesn't want them. It's a gift for extremists who want to say that America will never have your back, that America will never protect you.

The second danger, obviously, is that other countries who are bearing the greatest load of refugees, they then take up the American example and that has foreign policy repercussions.

Frankly, if Lebanon and Jordan turn their back on Syrian refugees, it would cause enormous tumult across the Middle East that would require American attention. So there is a foreign policy danger to this as well as a humanitarian danger.

SHAPIRO: How does this change in position from the United States change the work that your organization, the International Rescue Committee, does?

MILIBRAND: The obvious direct impact is that refugee resettlement numbers are more than halved. And that obviously means that we're able to offer a route to hope for less than half the people that we were previously helping.

There's also a secondary danger. American foreign aid is a very small part of the American budget. It's less than 1.2 percent of American national income. But obviously the budget request that was put in by the administration to Congress last week made great threats to the foreign aid program, which is frankly a source of stability in countries like Iraq.

When Iraqi forces clear ISIS from areas of Mosul, it's humanitarian aid workers sometimes funded by the Americans taxpayer who then go in and help achieve a degree of stabilization and, in the best case, is a step of normality.

SHAPIRO: David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and joined us from Erbil in northern Iraq. Thanks very much.

MILIBRAND: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.