US should end COVID-19 asylum restrictions at...
In a statement published on the UNHCR’s website, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged the US government to “swiftly lift the public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect at the border” and restore access to asylum “in line with international legal and human rights obligations”.
While Grandi said he welcomed the Biden administration’s plans “for much needed reform”, as well as steps that have been taken to allow unaccompanied migrant children and acutely vulnerable families into the country, he said “a system which allows a small number of asylum seekers to be admitted daily...is not an adequate response”.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration has upheld Title 42, a public health order introduced under President Donald Trump that blocks most asylum seekers from entering the country under the justification that doing so will help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the US.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief added that there is “an urgent need” to take further steps to provide access at ports of entry which remain closed to most asylum-seekers due to the Title 42 public health order, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The measure has been in place since March last year.
Mr. Grandi explained that the Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying them access to asylum procedures. He recalled that guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum seekers are the core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of those on the move. “The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico”, added the High Commissioner.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), has maintained since the start of the pandemic that protecting public health and protecting the human right of access to asylum are “fully compatible”. The agency reminded that, at the height of the pandemic, many countries put in place protocols such as health screening, testing, and quarantine measures, to simultaneously protect both public health and the right to seek asylum.
“I encourage the US administration to continue its work to strengthen its asylum system and diversify safe pathways, so asylum seekers are not forced to resort to dangerous crossings facilitated by smugglers”, said Mr. Grandi, while offering the full support of his agency to support the implementation of such a decision.