By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – Campaign rhetoric in the United States is harming a vital U.S. resettlement programme for Syrian & other refugees fleeing war & persecution, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Monday called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States in the most dramatic response by a candidate yet to last week's shooting spree by two Muslims who the FBI said had been radicalized.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, asked approximately Trump's remarks, told a news briefing in Geneva: "What the candidate you are speaking of was speaking of was an entire population yet this moreover impacts the refugee programme.
"Because our refugee programme is religion-blind. Our resettlement programme selects the people who are the most in need."
About 100,000 refugees are resettled worldwide each year, including to the United States, the largest recipient under the UNHCR's programme, Fleming said. The screening process takes up to two years & priority is given to the most vulnerable, including women heading families, children needing specialised medical treatment & victims of torture.
"The (Obama) administration has been standing by the programme. This is most scrutinised population coming into the United States," she added.
Up to 40 U.S. governors had spoken out against the resettlement programme, she said.
"We are concerned that the rhetoric that is being used in the election campaign is putting an incredibly significant resettlement programme at risk that is meant for the most vulnerable people – the victims of the wars that the world is unable to stop," Fleming said.
Joel Millman, spokesman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), asked approximately Trump's comments, said:
"I will just say what others have said, that prejudice or discrimination based on religion is totally against every Convention that we know of in aiding people in humanitarian emergencies & of course in resettlement."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)