Nearly one-quarter of Africa’s population will face tough new restrictions on emigrating to the United States under a policy to be introduced by the Trump administration this month, sparking outrage from many African and U.S. politicians and civil liberties advocates.
Critics say the new policy is effectively an “Africa ban” to accompany the earlier travel restrictions that became known as the “Muslim ban” under U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017.
Several of Africa’s most populous countries – Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania – are included in the new U.S. clampdown, which takes effect on Feb. 22. Also included is Eritrea, a smaller country but a major source of refugees and emigrants because of its authoritarian regime.
Only two non-African countries – Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan – are covered under the new restrictions.
In his first week in office, Mr. Trump banned nearly all travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ban, revised as a result of court challenges, currently applies to five Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – along with Venezuela and North Korea.
In a statement on Friday, the White House said Mr. Trump had issued a proclamation that maintains the existing entry restrictions on the seven countries and adds new limits on immigrant visas for the four African countries, plus Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.
The White House statement said the latest policy is “the height of common sense” and “fundamental to national security.” The six countries under the new policy have not complied with security standards set by “America’s law-enforcement and intelligence professionals,” it said.
On the weekend, most African governments reacted cautiously to the U.S. announcement as they struggled to understand its full implications. But opposition politicians, along with the government of Eritrea and a number of independent U.S. advocacy groups, denounced the new policy as discriminatory and unfair. Some analysts said it was an appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States during an election year.
The Eritrean government, in a statement on Sunday, said it was dismayed by the “unfriendly act” that contradicts the official U.S. policy of constructive engagement with Eritrea.
“Although couched in purely technical terms, it singles out Eritrea without justification,” the government said.
Refugees International, an independent U.S.-based humanitarian organization, said the new policy is “executive overreach and part of a pattern of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies.”
Restricting immigration at such a scale and scope, targeting whole populations of countries and discriminating on the basis of race or religion, is unprecedented and a violation of U.S. immigration laws, Refugees International president Eric Schwartz said in a statement.
Atiku Abubakar, a former Nigerian vice-president who finished second in last year’s presidential election, said he “received with sadness” the new U.S. policy. The United States should not target “the entire Nigerian population,” he said in a tweet, arguing that the Nigerian people “ought not to be punished” for the “inefficiencies” of their government.
Many critics and analysts noted that Mr. Trump has repeatedly voiced his contempt for African countries. In a closed-door meeting on immigration issues in 2018, Mr. Trump referred to “shithole countries” in Africa, according to a number of media reports quoting witnesses at the meeting.
At a White House meeting in 2017, Mr. Trump was widely reported to have told his national security team that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” in Africa after they have seen the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union, an advocacy group that has been pursuing court challenges against the travel ban since it was first announced in 2017, said the restrictions are a result of the “ignorance and racism” of the U.S. President.
“President Trump is doubling down on his signature anti-Muslim policy – and using the ban as a way to put even more of his prejudices into practice by excluding more communities of colour,” said a statement by Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Nigeria is the biggest source of U.S. immigrants from the African continent, with nearly 330,000 Nigerians now living in the United States. They are also among the best-educated immigrants in the country. More than 60 per cent of Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. hold at least one university degree – nearly double the percentage for the rest of the U.S. population.
The Nigerian government announced on Saturday that it is forming a committee to “study and address” the new U.S. security requirements.
Sudan, which toppled its long-time dictator last year and is in transition to civilian rule, is another controversial choice for inclusion in the latest policy.
Karen Bass, chair of a U.S. Congressional subcommittee on Africa, warned last month in a letter to Mr. Trump that any new restrictions on Sudan would damage the country’s path toward peace and democracy and would “send the wrong message at this critical time in Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led government.”
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