US Ambassador: Do as we say, not as we do

US president Donald Trump with former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is now the ambassador to New Zealand.

US president Donald Trump with former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is now the ambassador to New Zealand.

OPINION: New US ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, has asked us to give Trump a "fair go". But a fair go is what the Trump administration needs to give people fleeing persecution and war.

The latest version of President Trump's travel ban came into effect on June 29, and included the "granny ban". Most refugees have had the door slammed in their faces by the administration's requirement that they already have family in the United States – the definition of which bizarrely excludes grandparents, fiances and cousins.

It's difficult to overstate the seriousness of this for people who have been certified as genuine refugees, who are in desperate need of resettlement, and have gone through exhaustive vetting processes – only to find that they are to be turned away at the last step. It will devastate the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable people, who urgently need to get to safety and restart their lives.

Refugees queue at a World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution site at a refugee settlement on February 25, in ...

Refugees queue at a World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution site at a refugee settlement on February 25, in Palorinya, Uganda.

It's easy for Trump to portray those fleeing war or persecution as outsiders, to imply that they are somehow less human than the rest of us. That Syrian children don't have the same reaction as our children would to the horrors they have witnessed. But we know this isn't true. We know the things that connect us as humans are far stronger than the things that divide us.

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The real outsiders in this picture are Trump and those enacting and supporting the refugee shutout. They are the ones going against the universal human value of compassion.

But at the same time the new policy – heartless as it is – has brought out true heroes.

At international airports across the US, lawyers and advocates are camped out, making themselves available to help travellers caught up in the chaos. And people have taken to the streets, calling on their country to have the basic human decency they would expect.

Trump would be well advised to reflect on the way in which one of his predecessors – Franklin Roosevelt – was judged by history for turning back refugees. In the lead up to and during the Second World War, thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives from Nazi Germany were turned back by his administration. Many were subsequently killed in the Holocaust.

The stain on Roosevelt's reputation was not just because of a lack of basic human compassion. It also breached what most people would consider a fundamental obligation: it's not acceptable to be a party to a conflict without also helping protect innocent people who flee from that conflict. Or to use Ambassador Brown's words to New Zealanders, it's not a fair go.

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Yet many of the refugees that Washington is now turning away are fleeing the very conflicts that the US is a participant in. From Syria to Iraq and Yemen to Afghanistan, if it's not US bombing campaigns, it's often US weapons being unleashed. Whatever you think of the rights or wrongs of US engagement in those conflicts, the country is shirking its responsibility to offer protection for people fleeing them.

Not that the US was doing its fair share when it comes to refugees, even before the Trump ban. Compared on a per-capita basis, the US was already well behind Canada, the UK, Australia and many western European nations. Not as far behind as New Zealand, mind you, which languishes somewhere around 90th in the world for total per capita refugee intake. Unfortunately, now even that contribution from the US is largely on hold.

So as Ambassador Brown pleads his case to a country with a deep-seated value that everyone deserves a fair go, he would get a big credibility boost by tapping into his "tell it like it is" directness. That means acknowledging the US travel ban denies safety and a fair go to those forced to flee.

* Grant Bayldon is executive director of Amnesty International New Zealand.

 - Stuff


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