By Sarah Soyei: firstname.lastname@example.org
The 27th of January is International Holocaust Memorial Day; a day which provides a reminder for people from across the world to stop and remember the millions of people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides across the world. One of the key messages is “Never Again”. We have the opportunity to reflect and think about the steps that we can take to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the future.
Donald Trump chose this day to sign an executive order which implements a ban on all refugees and people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the USA. The order came into play immediately, which meant that people who were in the air at the time were left in limbo. An Iraqi man who worked as an interpreter for the USA for 10 years was held upon arrival at JFK airport. A Yazidhi woman who escaped ISIS, whose husband is in the USA and who has been going through the process of acquiring a VISA for two years, had her ticket ripped up as she tried to board a Dubai airways flight. People who are green card holders are included, including a Clemson PhD Professor who has just been on a week’s holiday. Iranian students studying in the US who have left the country to conduct research may not be allowed to return to finish their studies. British hero, Sir Mo Farah may not be able to return to join his family from his training camp in Ethiopia. Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi has been banned from going to the ceremony…
The order has been supposedly implemented in the interests of protecting US citizens from potential terror attacks. However, none of the evidence bears this out. There have been no fatal terror attacks in the US since 1975 from people who have come from any of the countries which have been affected by this executive order. Donald Trump cited 9/11 as a reason for the ban, however none of the plane hijackers were from any of those countries and the countries that the hijackers did come from have been unaffected. Even if you stretch the connections further and look at Muslim Americans who have family backgrounds which herald from any of these countries, you find that none have killed Americans in the last 15 years. Violence by Muslims in America makes up a tiny fraction of the violence in the country. Attacks by Muslims made up 0.3% of all murders in America last year.
Accepting refugees doesn’t just protect people desperately in need of help, but refugees make huge contributions to their host communities. Steve Jobs’ father was a refugee from Syria. Research shows that after four years refugees are well integrated and contribute more to the economy than the average American citizen. Policies such as these do not improve security. ISIS feed upon a narrative that there is a clash of civilisations between Muslims and the West and that they are there to heal the harm. They call out to disaffected young Muslims who are experiencing Islamophobia and feel alienated from Western culture, which they feel has rejected them, and present themselves as the solution. The people in the countries that have been banned have borne the brunt of ISIS and its affiliates and they are the ones who have been at the front-line of fighting against them; in November millions of people in Iraq marched against ISIS, but this policy presents people as a monolith, automatically suspect and unworthy of entry to the US by the nature of their place of birth or religion.
Therefore, it is clear that this action is not based on improving national security or economics, but on vanity, power, racism and religious intolerance. During Donald Trump’s election campaign he made sweeping comments, such as ‘Islam hates us’, and called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” now this Islamophobia has become USA national policy. The Islamophobic messages have seeped into UK classrooms. A few weeks ago when I was talking to a group of 9 and 10 year olds about the fact that Muslims lived every country across the world a Muslim boy said to me “But, we’re not welcome in America anymore”. Schools have approached us asking how they can support pupils who are fearful that “Donald Trump is coming to get them”
Both the USA and the UK are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Article 14 states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” They are also both signatories to the Geneva Convention, one of the key principles of which is that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom; now considered a rule of customary international law. In the USA, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin. Therefore, there are many cases to argue that this executive order is illegal. Court cases have been filed by international human rights organisations and representatives of those who have been refused entry.
Many leaders from across the world have spoken out against Trump’s actions. The UNHCR and IOM have stated that the refugee resettlement programme in the USA is vital. The Canadian, French and German governments have condemned the order. However, when continually pressed on the issue Theresa May’s response was that “The United States is responsible for the United State policy on refugees.” followed by a weak statement saying “we do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking. ” Rewind six months and moments after she became prime minister she spoke out in favour of Holocaust Education.
“It is easy to say ‘we must never forget’. But it is the pioneering work of organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust which turn words into action. By raising awareness, spreading understanding and supporting young people to be a driving force for education and remembrance, HET ensures the memory of the Holocaust lives on.”
The accounts of the past week illustrate that she might have already forgotten.
For ways in which you can support refugees from the UK, please see our blog: Choose Love
For ways in which you can support pupils and effectively conduct conversations on controversial and sensitive issues, please see our blog: Supporting Pupils in the Wake of the USA elections