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Refugees In Limbo Over Trump Order


President Trump's attempt to restore his immigration order was rejected overnight by a federal appeals court, so his ban on refugees and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim countries remains on hold. Many people whose plans to come to the U.S. were disrupted are once again hoping to board planes. That includes nearly 2,000 refugees scrambling to resettle here. We're going to talk now with William Lacy Swing. He is director general of the U.N. Migration Agency, which oversees the travel plans of most refugees resettling in the United States.

Mr. Swing, thanks so much for speaking with us this morning.

WILLIAM LACY SWING: Thank you very much. It's an honor to be with you. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's the latest information you have from the U.S. State Department?

SWING: I think the latest information is that we are cautiously moving ahead with a number of refugees who will now be coming. I would expect the first group from our side to arrive probably on Monday, possibly Tuesday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How many are we talking about?

SWING: Well, I think in the period ahead until the 17 of February, all told, somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 roughly. That's the ones that are cleared and ready to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And where are they from? Tell us a little bit about where their journeys are at right now.

SWING: Our largest refugee processing center is in Amman, Jordan. That will, of course, involve, surely, a number of Syrians, others from the group of seven that was mentioned in the executive order. There will be probably some Somalis coming through our refugee processing center in Nairobi, Kenya. We'll know more a little later in the day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is your agency dealing with this constant back-and-forth between the Trump administration and the judiciary?

SWING: Well, it's difficult. And - but we just remain flexible. We've been at this for the last 35 years of this program with the U.S. We've brought something more than 3 million refugees to the States in that period with our partners. So in the present moment, we just have to make sure that we are following the legalities in this whole question so we don't put anybody in difficulty. But I'm pleased that we're able to move a few of these people now because, you know, they've been waiting a long time. The processing for security alone is about 18 to 24 months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does this uncertainty affect these very vulnerable populations?

SWING: Well, look, I'll give you an example. I just come back from Asia. I interviewed a young Syrian who we had processed, and he was totally distraught. He had his wife and a 6-month-old child. He had gotten rid of his apartment, sold everything he had, basically had his ticket in hand. And he came in, and he was just, you know, psychologically just beside himself. And I tried to encourage him and say let's hope that this will not be long-lived as an order and let's see what we can do to support you in the meantime. But that's one example among dozens or hundreds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What will the IOM do if, indeed, the Trump administration is able to reinstate the ban?

SWING: Well, we will just continue to try to stand by the refugees, along with partners like the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and other partners, to try to see them through this difficult period, to try to keep them encouraged because we have been the beacon, for many, many years. So we're hoping that as soon as possible, one could return to a more normal resettlement program like we've had in the past.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can the vetting be improved? This is all fundamentally, according to the administration here, about keeping Americans safe.

SWING: Well, it's hard to imagine a more strict vetting than we have now. This came in after the 9/11 attack in 2001. You have eight U.S. government agencies who are vetting them. They're looking at six different security databases. They are doing five different background checks. They have three separate in-person interviews and then two interagency security reviews of all of that. So part of the problem has been that since 9/11, the security vetting has been so strict that you're talking about at least 18 months until you can travel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask how you are rescheduling the flights of some of these refugees that were supposed to come to the United States. Where are you in the process?

SWING: It's kind of hard to say because we're in so many places, and we have people at virtually every major airport in the world to pick these people up and get them on the next flight. It's quite complex now. But you can be sure from our side that we're going to do everything possible to get them on those flights to take advantage of this window of opportunity unless of course, you know, courts change things once more.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: William Lacy Swing - he is director general of the U.N. migration agency, the IOM.

Thank you so much.

SWING: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.