Wed, Mar 01, 2017 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: UN backs vetting as US mulls refugee rules

JORDAN OPERATIONS:A Syrian hairdresser and her daughters hoping to reach Britain said she understands security concerns, but added: ‘I don’t think I will pose any threat’

AP, AMMAN

A Syrian refugee girl poses for a biometric iris scan at the UN refugee agency in Amman on Sunday.

Photo: AP

In an office cubicle at the UN refugee agency, a Syrian woman and her three daughters took turns staring into a camera for iris scans. Their biometric registration, a first step toward possible resettlement in the West, is to be followed by interviews and background checks that can take months or even years.

The 31-year-old part-time hairdresser, who fled to Jordan in 2014 after her husband went missing in Syria’s civil war, feels fortunate. However, the long road ahead for many Syrian refugees could grow even more arduous if US President Donald Trump fulfils campaign vows to impose “extreme vetting.”

Many of the 5 million Syrian refugees who scratch out a living in overwhelmed neighboring states such as Jordan are not necessarily candidates for a rare slot in the resettlement program. Priority is given to the most vulnerable, including women heading households, medical patients and people who have been tortured.

Still, the vetting process has come under intense scrutiny since Trump took office.

A week after his inauguration, Trump suspended refugee admissions, saying that displaced people pose a potential terrorism threat and that his administration needs time to impose more stringent vetting procedures.

A federal judge blocked the order, but Trump has said a new version will be announced soon.

US involvement in refugee resettlement is bound to shrink this year, even if a new executive order softens earlier provisions, such as the open-ended ban on the entry of displaced Syrians.

Trump has announced that he is reducing the US limit for taking in refugees from all over the world from 110,000 to 50,000 a year, leaving even fewer spots for refugees from the Middle East.

The US has been a leading resettlement destination, taking in about half of the 20,000 refugees, most of them Syrians, who left to the West from Jordan last year, said Daniela Cicchella, a senior refugee agency official in Jordan.

Cicchella described the vetting as stringent, but said all involved are open to ways of improving it.

The program is “one of the most scrutinized” ways of entering the US, Cicchella said during a tour of the vetting area at the agency headquarters in Jordan’s capital.

“We have been working very closely with different countries, including with the US authorities, in the last years,” she said.

Trump’s initial order asked officials to review the refugee approval process in search of possible security loopholes, but did not say what additional vetting he wants to see.

For now, the process includes in-person interviews during which refugees provide information about families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, telephone numbers and e-mail accounts.

They also provide biometric information, including fingerprints, and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies are consulted for background checks. Syrians are subject to additional classified checks. Their vetting typically takes two years or more.

Last year, the US Department of Homeland Security said it planned to look more closely at social media postings of people seeking to enter the US.

The Syrian hairdresser said she hoped to move with her daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 13, to Britain, where she has family.

In a small office, a UN staffer logged their details into a computer, including the names and ages of the woman’s siblings.

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