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UNHCR appeals for protection of asylum seekers in the United States

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UNHCR appeals for protection of asylum seekers in the United States

21 March 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - UNHCR is concerned by the new US Government policy to mandatorily detain asylum seekers based on nationality. UNHCR fully recognizes and supports the need for heightened security measures during these tenuous times of increased insecurity. We would hope, however, that measures to protect civilians and ensure security in the United States would not target those persons who are themselves fleeing persecution and looking for safety in the US.

Operation Liberty Shield calls for the automatic and continued detention of arriving asylum seekers from over 30 classified countries and territories throughout immigration proceedings. In a letter to the US Government, the High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers noted: "Detention of asylum seekers should be the exception, not the rule and should be based on an individualized assessment of the security risk the person poses." Blanket mandatory detention based on nationality varies from accepted international human rights norms and standards.

UNHCR shares US concerns about potential abuse of the asylum system. The US asylum system already has in place a number of screenings to identify those individuals who pose potential security risks. US asylum law and the 1951 Refugee Convention exclude any persons engaged in terrorist acts from refugee protection.

The tendency to link asylum seekers and refugees to terrorism is a dangerous and erroneous one. Asylum seekers who reach the United States have themselves escaped acts of persecution and violence, including terrorism, and have proven time and again that they are the victims and not the perpetrators of these attacks. They have often been stripped of their dignity, homes and livelihoods and have lost loved ones. The United States has always been a generous and safe harbour for those victims of war, persecution and human suffering. UNHCR hopes these people in need will continue to find safety and dignity on US shores.