For those who watched appalled as Donald Trump bellowed to victory in the US presidential election on a platform of fear, xenophobia and hate, there was always the consolation that his poisonous campaign rhetoric might be a mere vote-winning strategy. Style over substance. Just words. And the hope that his demonisation of entire groups of people would not have any real consequences. Yet, in India, people have watched with concern the reports of hate crimes against Indians and people of Indian origin in the past few weeks. President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has clearly contributed to an atmosphere of xenophobia in the country, spurring violence against people from minority communities. The new President has also swiftly backed up his hateful discourse with a series of concrete policy decisions that pose a grave and immediate threat to human rights in the US and beyond.
A series of repressive executive orders passed by Mr Trump in his first two months in office will have far-reaching, catastrophic consequences. And this is not just a US problem — far from it. The policies of Mr Trump’s White House will have a ripple effect in all corners of the globe, with the most vulnerable hit the hardest. It should come as little surprise that Mr Trump’s two main targets in the Oval Office are the same ones he singled out on the campaign trail: Muslims and refugees. If you’re a refugee, who also happens to be a Muslim, so much the worse. With the January 27 executive order, “protecting the nation from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals”, Mr Trump declared war on Muslim refugees around the world. Its haphazard implementation swiftly sowed fear and chaos. There was a brief reprieve on February 3, when a US district court issued a nationwide order blocking the blatantly discriminatory measure, but it was shortlived.
On March 6, following weeks of suspense, the White House issued a revised executive order. Despite the tinkering at the edges, it is a thinly veiled affront to the judiciary and remains a Muslim ban by any other name. With the stroke of a pen, the President again shut the door to anyone — including refugees — from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Not only are these all predominantly Muslim countries; they are places where most people seeking asylum are fleeing conflict and human rights violations. Mr Trump claims to be blocking the entry of “terrorists” who would harm the US. But in reality, there is no data to support the view that refugees — Muslim or otherwise — pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. Mr Trump also imposed an annual refugee cap of 50,000. With Barack Obama’s administration having already pledged to admit 110,000 refugees in the current fiscal year, this order will affect 60,000 vulnerable people in 2017 alone.
The fact that this comes amid a global emergency in which 65 million people are displaced due to war and persecution underlines its callousness. But in the era of “fake news” and trumped-up “alternative facts”, the truth is clearly of no interest to the President. For the refugees and migrants facing real life-and-death decisions, pretence and fakery are not luxuries they can indulge in. Since the travel ban first took effect, Amnesty International and others have encountered tales of terrible suffering in its wake in various countries around the world. Families rent asunder, lives put on hold, hopes of new beginnings crushed overnight. Like the man who went to Iran for his father’s funeral and was suddenly faced with the prospect of not being allowed to return home to the US.
Or the Yemeni family in New York whose one-year-old baby is now stuck thousands of miles away in Malaysia because the travel ban forced them to leave her behind. Or the persecuted Sudanese journalist living underground in Egypt, fearing for his life, who is now questioning how safe Mr Trump’s US would be to seek asylum in. Then there are large numbers of refugees in other countries — overwhelmingly in the “global South” — who may now feel abandoned by the international community. Will Mr Trump’s travel ban prompt a knock-on effect of those host countries increasing forcible expulsions of refugees? Amnesty International’s “I Welcome campaign” has been a powerful platform for millions of global citizens who choose to stand in solidarity with refugees. Mr Trump’s border security policies, based on hatred and fear, are a direct confrontation to that movement. In the six weeks since taking office, Mr Trump has waged all-out war on human rights. Responding with outrage is not enough. It is the time, and the responsibility of all who hold those rights dear, to fight back.