US election campaign rhetoric threatens refugee programmes: UN

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard the USS Yorktown Memorial in South Carolina on Dec 7, 2015.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard the USS Yorktown Memorial in South Carolina on Dec 7, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Rhetoric in the US presidential campaign is threatening a key refugee resettlement programme, the United Nations said on Tuesday (Dec 8), after Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said Muslims should be barred from entering the country.

United Nations refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming did not directly respond to Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims coming to the US, but said the UN was concerned about the impact of such remarks.

"We have a very strong resettlement programme to the United States and the resettlement programme includes Syrian refugees," Fleming said in a response to a question about Trump.

"We are concerned that the rhetoric that is being used in the election campaign is putting an incredibly important resettlement programme at risk," she told journalists.

She also referred to a call from several US state governors - made after last months' extremist attacks in Paris - for a pause in the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

"The Obama administration has been standing by the programme...It would be a shame if this were halted," Fleming further said.

The UN spokeswoman noted that the US takes in more refugees each year than any other country in the world, roughly 100,000 people.

In seeking to underscore the importance of resettlement programmes, especially for Syrians, Fleming said there were indications that a surge in air strikes by foreign militaries had forced more people to flee their homes.

"We definitely have seen an increase in displacement in recent weeks," Fleming said, when asked about the impact of rising bombardments by a US-led coalition as well as Russian jets.

She said it was still too early to quantify the impact of intensified air strikes, noting that violence on the ground and forced conscription by the Islamic State group were also still forcing people to flee.

More than four million people have fled Syria's brutal civil war and more than seven million others are displaced within the country.

The flood of people fleeing Syria has been the main driver of the Europe's migrant crisis.

In updated figures, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday that 909,000 migrants had entered Europe by sea this year, meaning the one million mark could be passed by Dec 31.

Migrants have entered Europe in 2015 at nearly four times the 2014 rate, a trend that further highlighted the need for refugee resettlement programmes, including in the US, Fleming said.

The programme "is meant for the most vulnerable people, the victims of wars the world is unable to stop," she told journalists.