US lifts ban on refugees from 11 countries
The United States announced Monday it was lifting its ban on refugees from 11 "high-risk" countries, but said those seeking to enter the US would come under much tougher scrutiny than in the past.
Applicants from 11 countries, unnamed but understood to include 10 Muslim-majority nations plus North Korea, will face tougher "risk-based" assessments to be accepted.
"It's critically important that we know who is entering the United States," said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
"These additional security measures will make it harder for bad actors to exploit our refugee program, and they will ensure we take a more risk-based approach to protecting the homeland."
The 11 countries, hit with a ban in October in the Trump administration's revised refugee policy, have not been identified officially.
But refugee groups say they comprise Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Speaking anonymously, a senior administration official told journalists that the policy of enhanced security assessments for the 11 countries was not designed to target Muslims.
"Our admissions have nothing to do with religion," the official said, adding that there is "nothing especially novel" about tougher screening for countries deemed to have a higher level of risk.
Donald Trump has pursued a much tougher stance on immigrants and refugees from all countries since becoming president one year ago.
Annual refugee admissions have been slashed by more than half to a maximum of 45,000 in fiscal 2018, which ends on September 31.
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