As part of his blitz of latest executive orders, which as reported yesterday would institute sweeping changes to U.S. refugee and immigration policies including a ban on people from countries in the Middle East and North Africa deemed as a “terror risk”, a separate order also lays the groundwork for an escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria by directing the Pentagon and the State Department to craft a plan to create safe zones for civilians fleeing the conflict there.
Trump said on Wednesday he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees fleeing violence. According to a document seen by Reuters, Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and the State Department in the coming days to come up with a plan for the zones.
Such safe zones could provide an alternative to admitting refugees to the U.S. according to Trump, but would also force greater US military deployment to the region.
According to the WSJ, the safe-zone proposal represents a significant policy reversal from the administration of Barack Obama, who long resisted pressure for such an approach from Congress and U.S. allies in the Middle East because he believed it would draw the U.S. too deeply into another war.
Establishing safe zones in Syria would mark an escalation in America’s military involvement there. In addition to the initial military buildup that likely would be needed to create the zones, ground troops and additional air power will be needed to protect them, military officials have said. Such zones would also put U.S.-allied forces in dangerous proximity to foreign troops, including forces from Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Confirming that Trump’s proposal plays into the hands of the party that has been mostly responsible for the relentless proxy war in Syria over the past 6 years, Qatar, a backer of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, welcomed Trump’s pledge to order safe zones in Syria, a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by state news agency QNA on Thursday.
Qatar’s foreign ministry director of information, Ahmed al-Rumaihi, said in a statement that Qatar welcomed Trump’s comments on Wednesday and “emphasized the need to provide safe havens in Syria and to impose no-fly zones to ensure the safety of civilians.” Rumaihi said Qatar hoped recent negotiations in Kazakhstan would help maintain a shaky truce between Syria’s warring parties and that an effective monitoring mechanism would be needed to create conditions for proposed peace talks in Geneva.
As a reminder, gas-rich Qatar works alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Western nations to back Syrian rebels in a military aid program overseen by the CIA that provides moderate groups with arms and training. A natgas pipeline project connecting Qatar to Europe has been often cited as the main reason for the relentless attempts to destabilize and overthrow the Assad regime, and to impose a puppet regime that would be agreeable to the project, one which would significantly reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas exports.
Meanwhile, Trump’s other executive order curbing immigration from the region was met with concern by students, family members and governments who worried whether recently granted visit and study visas would remain valid and how they would see their relatives resettled in America. Trump’s order banning entry to the U.S. by people who come from countries deemed terrorism risks was expected to include Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. It is a modification of a ban he promoted during the campaign regarding Muslims entering the U.S.
“What a terrible move!” Abdi Aynte, Somalia’s international cooperation minister wrote on social media.
In the 2016 fiscal year, 3,660 immigration visas—meant for people who are planning to move permanently to the U.S.—were issued to Iraqis, according to the State Department. Citizens of Iran, a nation considered an adversary of the U.S., were granted more than twice that number.
The vast majority of Iraqi immigration visas went to so-called Special Immigrants, classified by the department as those people who had worked with the U.S. government or military. Extremists in Iraq have put bounties on those who helped Americans.
Since Trump became president last Friday, the U.S. has admitted about 1,100 refugees, including 200 from Syria. Trump’s latest actions would end the current allowance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and halt all visas to Syrians until a later time.
Trump also plans to suspend America’s entire refugee program for 120 days while officials determine which countries pose the least security risk and to implement new tests of those applying for visas. Ultimately, Mr. Trump plans to reduce the cap for refugees into the U.S. from 110,000, as set by Mr. Obama, to 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year. His moves would suspend issuing visas to countries where the administration determines adequate screening can’t occur.
The new policy would ban people who engage “in bigotry, honor killings, violence against women, or who persecute other religions, or who oppress members of one race, one gender, or sexual orientation,” according to a summary of the plan. It also prioritizes the admission of refugees who claim religious persecution.