Concerned about refugees, U.N. experts add to censure of Trump move


 Reuters International

People gather outside the Federal Building to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

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(Reuters) - U.N. human rights experts warned that asylum seekers could face torture if not given safe harbor and the Vatican called for openness to other cultures on Wednesday, adding to a drumbeat of international criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel curbs.

Trump's executive order last Friday put a 120-day halt on the U.S. refugee program, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and imposed a 90-day suspension on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The move, which his administration says is aimed at protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, has been condemned by many countries and has sparked protests and court challenges in the United States.

A panel of U.N. human rights experts urged the Trump administration on Wednesday to protect people fleeing war and persecution, and said the measure contravened international humanitarian and human rights laws.

It "risks people being returned, without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures, to places in which they risk being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the experts said in a statement.

The experts, including the U.N. special rapporteurs on migrants, racism, human rights and counter-terrorism, torture, and freedom of religion, also said the measure could lead to "increased stigmatization of Muslim communities."

The Vatican, in its first comment on the order, said it was concerned.

"Certainly there is worry because we are messengers of another culture, that of openness," the Vatican's deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, told an Italian Catholic television station.

"Pope Francis, in fact, insists on the ability to integrate those who arrive in our societies and cultures," he said, also commenting on Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

IRAN AND LIBYA

In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani stepped up his criticism of Trump's immigration policies, including the travel ban, dismissing the U.S. businessman-turned-president as a political novice. Tehran has already vowed to respond with legal, political and reciprocal measures.

"It will take him a long time and will cost the United States a lot, until he learns what is happening in the world," Rouhani said in an address on state television.

Libya's U.N.-backed government also criticised Trump's ban on its nationals. The order has put in question participation of Libyans invited to a conference on Libya planned in Washington this month.

The measure was one of a flurry of executive orders signed by Trump, a Republican, since he took office on Jan. 20.

"Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!" Trump said on Twitter early Wednesday.

Reaction to the travel curbs from some Muslim majority countries not on the list of seven designated countries has been more muted.

The United Arab Emirates' foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said on Wednesday the ban was an internal affair not directed at any faith, and noted that most Muslims and Muslim countries were not included.

The UAE, a major oil exporter, is a close ally of the United States and a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamist militants in Syria.

In the United States, four U.S. states - Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington - have sued to overturn the order on the grounds it flouts constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Philip Pullella in Vatican City, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in Dubai, Aidan Lewis in Tripoli; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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