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Washington: President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday indefinitely banning admission of people fleeing Syria, temporarily freezing the entry of other refugees and prohibiting entry by people from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days.

Trump said the measure would prevent terrorists from being admitted into the country. Democrats labelled the order a “Muslim ban" and criticized it as inhumane. Absent from the order was a provision from a draft of the document, obtained by Bloomberg, that would require the Defence Department to make a plan to create “safe zones" in Syria and neighbouring countries for people fleeing that nation’s civil war.

The admission of refugees would be suspended for 120 days. Citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya would be banned from entering the US for 90 days, while the government determines what information it needs from other countries to safely admit visitors. The order doesn’t list the countries but points to laws that cover those seven, which were provided by the White House.

People from countries that are either unwilling or unable to provide the information may be permanently banned from the US, under a future proclamation from Trump, the order says.

Trump signed the order at the Pentagon after a ceremonial swearing-in of his defence secretary, James Mattis. Trump said the order would “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America."

Also Read: Key highlights of Donald Trump’s presidency on Day 7

“We want to make sure we are not admitting to our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas," he said.

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, likened the ban to the country’s slow response to the Holocaust prior to US entry into World War Two.

“Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the United States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide and terror," Durbin said in a statement calling Trump’s order a “ban on Muslims in the United States."

“During the Holocaust we failed to fulfil our duty to humanity," he said. “We cannot allow mindless fear to lead us into another regretful chapter in our history."

Christian refugees

Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday that he regards Christians as a priority for the US refugee program.

“They’ve been horribly treated," Trump told the network. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible."

State Department data show that 34 Syrian Christian refugees were admitted into the US in the fiscal year that ended 30 September and 39 so far in the current fiscal year. By comparison, 12,486 Muslim Syrians were admitted in fiscal 2016 and 4,772 so far this year.

Syria is a majority Muslim nation, and US officials say that Christians fleeing the country’s civil war have largely wound up at refugee processing centers in areas the US government considers unsafe to work.

Trump’s order would require the government “to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution." Only people who are religious minorities in their countries would be eligible.

“There are Christians being processed, and processed at the same percentage at that which they apply for the program," Lavinia Limon, president and chief executive officer of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, an advocacy group, said in a phone interview. “So they’re moving through the process exactly in the same percentage."

Military order

Trump also signed a measure at the Pentagon that he said would “begin a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States," including “new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform."

The memorandum orders Mattis to conduct a 30-day review of military readiness and to work with Trump’s budget director on a request for extra money from Congress for the Pentagon. The document also requests a review of the US nuclear posture, a routine order by new presidents.

The White House waited more than two hours after Trump signed the directives in a public ceremony to release the documents.

During his campaign, Trump warned that the US risked allowing terrorists to slip into the country as part of the refugee program, pointing to terrorist attacks such as the killing of a French priest and a bombing at a German music festival as evidence of the danger posed by refugees.

Trump originally proposed a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the US After drawing criticism, he subsequently proposed blocking immigration from countries with a “proven history" of terrorism. Other than Syria, he didn’t specify what countries would meet that definition during his campaign.

US vetting

“We’ve taken in tens of thousands of people; we know nothing about them," Trump said Thursday in an interview on Fox News. “They can say they vet them, they didn’t vet them. They have no papers. How can you vet somebody when you don’t know anything about them and you have no papers? How do you vet them? You can’t."

Under the Obama administration, the US focused its refugee admissions on individuals with existing links to America, as well as women and children facing persecution or in desperate need of medical care. The screening process averages 12 to 18 months and includes biometric data and reviews by multiple law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“If you actually get resettled in the United States, it’s literally like winning the lottery," Limon said.

Trump’s call to limit refugee admissions has been denounced by human-rights groups, who say vulnerable people seeking to flee religious or political persecution would be denied safe haven. Although Trump has pulled back from statements early in his presidential campaign that he would ban immigration by Muslims, his critics say his policies embrace anti-Muslim sentiment and would erode America’s standing around the world.

“We bomb your country, creating a humanitarian nightmare, then lock you inside," Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement on Wednesday. “That’s a horror movie, not a foreign policy. " Bloomberg

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