Human Rights First’s Acer Addresses U.N. High Level Meeting on Refugees
New York City—In remarks today before the U.N. High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer urged countries to uphold commitments to refugee protection laws and human rights obligations. The U.N. High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants brings together world leaders to coordinate a response to the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
“While refugees and migrants are entitled to protections under international law, too often border, transit, arrival, and post-arrival interactions are conducted as though they occur in rights-free zones. It is precisely in times and places where adherence to international law is most needed, that the temptation to circumvent it can be greatest,” noted Acer. “Respect for human rights and refugee law is essential to securing stability and security; it also benefits host states and communities.”
Tomorrow at the U.N. President Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. In a letter sent to the president last month, Human Rights First and dozens of organizations across the country urged the administration to increase the number of refugees, at a level commensurate with global need, who are offered the lifesaving opportunity to create a new life here in the United States. Human Rights First has noted, however, that if Congress does not fully fund refugee resettlement initiatives, it will be difficult for the president to deliver on any commitments made at this week’s summits.
In a report released last month, Human Rights First laid out steps the United States should take to lead a comprehensive effort to address the global refugee crisis, focusing on areas where U.S. action is vital. Most critically the United States should champion the human rights of refugees, including the rights to protection from return to persecution, the ability to work legally, and freedom from deprivations of liberty and arbitrary detention. The paper notes that if basic human rights are not secured, refugees will continue to die, suffer, and struggle to rebuild their lives. These recommendations complement a scorecard put forth by Human Rights First and other civil society, refugee, and migrant organizations, which aims to hold U.N. member states accountable to refugee protection commitments.
Among the plan’s key recommendations for the New York summits and beyond are the following:
The United States should champion access to asylum and compliance with international law prohibitions against return or rejection of refugees, including:
- Ending U.S. border policies that block access to asylum, limit the use of expedited removal proceedings, abandon regional initiatives that block access to asylum, and support initiatives that secure access to asylum.
- Encourage nations that neighbor Syria to stop blocking refugees from fleeing their country and better support those countries through resettlement and aid.
- Ensure NATO activities comply with human rights and refugee protection law.
The United States should work with other nations to meet the U.N. Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) appeals to provide resettlement or other pathways to protection for ten percent of the global refugee population, including:
- Address staffing and efficiency gaps to reduce processing delays that hamper the effectiveness of U.S. resettlement and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) initiatives.
- Double the overall U.S. resettlement goal and urge European and other nations to substantially increase their resettlement efforts.
- Increase the U.S. commitment to resettle Syrian refugees to a level of one hundred thousand, as recommended by a bipartisan group of former government officials.
- Launch a private sponsorship resettlement initiative in the United States and encourage European states to create such programs.
- Continue to address the delays, under-staffing, and efficiency gaps that hamper the timeliness and effectiveness of U.S. resettlement and SIV initiatives.
Strengthen respect for the right to work, education, liberty, and free movement, including:
- Increase access to legal work authorization for all refugees, champion the right to work, and support front-line states through assistance and development initiatives.
- End U.S. detention policies that violate international law, including those relating to the detention of children and families, and encourage other nations to do so.
- Support initiatives to protect refugees and migrants from xenophobic violence, prosecute perpetrators, and encourage the world’s leaders to condemn such incidents.
Human Rights First notes that resolving the global refugee crisis is a national security imperative as well as a humanitarian priority. As a June 2016 bipartisan Statement of Principles on America’s Commitment to Refugees noted, “Accepting refugees, and encouraging other countries to do so, advances U.S. interests by support the stability of our allies struggling to host large numbers on their own.” And while some question the risk associated with taking refugees, bipartisan groups of U.S. national security experts—including former national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and States—have affirmed that refugees are “vetted more intensely than any other category of traveler” into the United States.
The number of refugees in the world has risen steeply in recent years and now exceeds 21 million. Nearly one in four has fled Syria. Seventy-six percent of the global refugee crisis comes from just ten countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea, and Colombia. And ten countries – Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad – host 58 percent of refugees.