President Obama Should Champion Refugee Protection at NATO Summit

Washington, D.C.—As world leaders gather for the NATO summit in Poland to discuss how to best address the migration of refugees across the Central Mediterranean, Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to champion the rights of refugees by standing firmly against European efforts to reject refugees and return them to their point of departure.

“As world leaders come together this week to discuss the biggest refugee challenge since World War II, President Obama should honor America’s legacy as a leader in refugee protection by refusing to support a backsliding in international refugee protection norms,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley. “The United States has a key role to play in encouraging our European allies to implement safeguards, assist refugees, and ensure that NATO actions respect human rights law.”

At the April 2016 G5 Leaders Meeting in Hanover, Italy requested that this week’s NATO Summit include a discussion of a proposal to expand the Operation Active Endeavour in the eastern Mediterranean to include intercepting ships carrying refugees and migrants off the coast of Libya. The request stems from NATO’s agreement to patrol the Aegean Sea as part of the controversial E.U.-Turkey deal. Under that agreement, NATO is charged with intercepting ships carrying refugees from Turkey to Greece and ensuring that passengers are returned to Turkey, a step that prevents these refugees from seeking asylum in Europe.

While, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, NATO’s mission in the Aegean Sea has been to “close off a key access route” used by refugees and migrants in order to “stem the tide,” that effort should not undermine asylum for those in need of international protection.

Human Rights First urges President Obama to champion compliance with international law. He should support policies that ensure access to borders and ports of entry for those seeking asylum, prohibit return or rejection of refugees, and call on the European Union to implement safeguards, assist refugees and cease deportations under its flawed deal with Turkey.

The administration should also work to ensure that NATO activities comply with human rights and refugee protection law. NATO’s approach should not violate the rights of refugees and migrants, including the right of refugees to flee persecution and seek asylum. This right applies whether refugees are in the Aegean Sea or in the Mediterranean. President Obama should also work with European partners to ensure that NATO provides support for rescue at sea.

“The journey across the central Mediterranean is treacherous. We welcome NATO involvement to prevent further tragic loss of life and efforts to rescue those in distress on the perilous journey,” said Quigley. “But rescue missions should not involve returning refugees to unsafe conditions in Libya.”

Last month, to mark World Refugee Day, more than 30 of the nation’s most prominent national security leaders, retired military leaders, and former government officials publicly called on the United States to reaffirm its commitment to protecting refugees. The call came through a signed statement of principles organized by Human Rights First, affirming the importance of refugee resettlement for advancing U.S. national security interests and upholding American values. “As we ensure the safety of our own citizens, we should recognize that refugees serve as a source of national renewal. Fleeing horrors today, they will tomorrow emerge as patriotic citizens who give back to the country that welcomed them in their time of desperation,” wrote the signers of the statement.

Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration to increase the pace of its resettlement of Syrian refugees, to demonstrate its commitment to solving the global refugee crisis. The U.S. pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year amounts to only about two percent of the 480,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, and just 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population of over 4.8 million in the region around Syria. The large majority of these refugees have fled to neighboring states including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, straining these countries infrastructures and threatening regional stability.

For more information or to speak with Quigley contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on July 7, 2016


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