UNWTO Slams US Isolationist Policies

UNWTO chief Taleb Rifai said no country should put up walls around itself and promised to fight those that seek to divide people
Taleb Rifai addresses the 17th WFTGA Convention in Tehran on Jan. 28.Taleb Rifai addresses the 17th WFTGA Convention in Tehran on Jan. 28.
The WFTGA does not accept borders and will do everything to eradicate discrimination

Taleb Rifai, the head of the UN World Tourism Organization, said traveling is the best response to those who seek to hinder it by putting up walls and employing an isolationist policy.

Speaking at the opening of 17th convention of the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations in Tehran on Saturday, Rifai criticized "forces that are trying to isolate people and stop them from traveling," promising that "we will defeat these forces", ISNA reported.

In comments that were clearly directed at US President Donald Trump, whose controversial anti-immigration rhetoric has helped fuel populist movements in many developed countries, Rifai said no country should put up walls around itself, a reference to Trump's pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. 

The bombastic US president claims the massive structure, which will cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, will help stem the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants, while immigrant advocates argue that it jeopardizes the rights and freedoms of millions of people.

"We're here (in Iran) to build bridges and open up borders … We need to recognize differences between people and celebrate them to make the world a better place to live," he said.

Trump's order on Friday seeks “suspension of issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of countries of particular concern”. 

Except for Syria, the order doesn't mention the other six states. So, the ban on "countries of concern" was first ed by US ex-president Barack Obama in the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.

The act limited the Visa Waiver Program travel for individuals who have traveled to these countries.

In any case, the recent ban restricts people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, from entering the US for at least 90 days.

Trump has also put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the country.

The ban has sparked outrage and confusion among civil rights activists in the US and abroad, with US rights groups and opposition politicians vowing to fight the discriminatory measure. 

The UNWTO does not have executive power but the organizations' policies are generally followed by all member states, with those who fail to comply face heavy criticism that can hurt the country's lucrative tourism industry.

"[The UN] cannot set and enforce laws, but we're working on devising a code of ethics that would prevent borders from separating people," Rifai said.

"My personal belief as a human being—and not the head of the UNWTO—is that borders shouldn't even exist; it's a policy that only serves to divide people."

Also speaking at the ceremony was WFTGA President Felicitas Wressnig who said the federation "does not accept borders and will do anything to eradicate discrimination."

Around 320 tour guides from 44 countries are attending the 17th WFTGA convention, which will end on Feb. 1. After the event, participants will visit Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Kashan.

The convention is being held at the Iran International Conference Center in northern Tehran. 

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