US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday, 27 January suspending refugee arrivals and imposing tough new controls on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The order imposed a 120-day suspension of the entire US Refugee Admissions Program and a 90-day ban on all entry to the United States from countries with “terrorism concerns”.
The State Department said the three-month ban applies to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – all Muslim-majority nations.
The order also specifically bars Syrian refugees from the US indefinitely, or until the president decides that they no longer pose a threat.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” he said.
“We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love – deeply – our people.”
During the suspensions of the refugee and visa programs, new rules would be devised for the “extreme vetting” of applicants’ backgrounds.
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said at the ceremony where he signed the executive order.
The temporary halt to refugee processing does not apply to religious minorities claiming persecution, such as Christians from Muslim-majority countries.
Trump said separately that he would allow some exceptions for Syrian Christians.
The executive order also cut the number of refugees the US planned to accept this budget year by more than half, to 50,000 people from around the world.
Trump’s decision has been sharply criticised by rights groups, who say the measures unfairly target Muslims because of their faith.
They also say no refugees have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the US.
Several rights and refugee-support groups have already announced that they will challenge the new presidential order in court.