Clinton Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Refugee Protection Is Highest Humanitarian Priority

Geneva – Today, Human Rights First praised the U.S. government for its strong representation at the historic ministerial meeting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, where state representatives from around the world joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reaffirm their countries’ commitment to the protection of refugees and to offer pledges for ways in which their laws, policies, and practices can be improved to enhance the protection of refugees and other displaced or stateless persons. Today’s ministerial meeting – the largest of its kind ever – commemorated the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In prepared remarks before the ministerial meeting, Secretary Hillary Clinton declared, “Protecting and assisting refugees is among my government’s highest humanitarian priorities,” and noted that “my country is a nation of immigrants, and we are proud to have welcomed so many refugees to our shores.” “The United States has long been a global leader in the protection of refugees,” described Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “As a leader, other countries often look to the United States for guidance in addressing refugee protection concerns – and to U.S. treatment of refugees and asylum seekers as an example.” The United States Government offered 28 pledges, including:

  • Work with Congress to eliminate the one-year filing deadline for submission of asylum applications;
  • Work on improved detainee release practices, and review and amend, as necessary, current policies to better ensure that individuals in immigration detention, including asylum seekers, are released from detention in a safe and responsible manner, time, and place;
  • Add language to one or more grant announcements that identify LGBT refugees as a vulnerable population in need of targeted services, and develop an electronic resource center to catalogue available community resources and supportive communities for LGBT refugees resettled in the United States; and
  • Undertake a review, to be completed by the end of calendar year 2012, to examine current interpretations of the terms under the immigration law’s national security exclusion grounds, for example, the meaning of material support, to better ensure that those in need of protection retain eligibility, and significantly reduce the number of cases on “hold.”

Human Rights First commends the United States Government for engaging in the pledge process and urges the U.S. Congress, the White House and the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security to, as Secretary Clinton promised, “turn our pledges into action.” Moving forward with these and other reforms will however require action and commitment by multiple U.S. government agencies. As Secretary Clinton stressed in her statement, “the needs of refugees don’t respect our bureaucratic divisions,” and as a result “we have to do a better job of breaking down barriers.” “Beyond the pledges offered today, there are many significant gaps and challenges in the U.S. asylum and refugee resettlement systems that are noticeably absent from the U.S. list of pledges,” explained Acer. “Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to repair major flaws in U.S. laws, policies and legal interpretations undermining the institution asylum and creating significant challenges in the resettlement of refugees.” Human Rights First recommendations – not addressed in the U.S. pledges offered today – include:

  • End the use of jails and jail-like facilities to detain asylum seekers by moving away from a penal model of detention;
  • Use alternatives to detention rather than detention in the many cases in which detention is not necessary, and revise regulations to provide arriving asylum seekers and other immigrants in detention with the chance to have their custody reviewed in a hearing before an Immigration Judge;
  • Enhance protection of refugees facing imminent danger by establishing a formal, effective, timely and transparent emergency resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger in countries of first asylum; and
  • Repair significant delays in resettlement processing due to inaccuracies or inefficiencies in the security clearance process by eliminating redundancies and providing each federal agency involved with the necessary staffing to complete checks accurately and promptly.

“With leadership comes responsibility,” concluded Acer. “The United States must lead by example and live up to the same standards we expect the rest of the world to respect.”


Published on December 7, 2011


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