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The Americas at a crossroads: UNHCR and IOM call for a collaborative response to refugees and migrants

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The Americas at a crossroads: UNHCR and IOM call for a collaborative response to refugees and migrants

Joint press statement by UNHCR and IOM
12 May 2023
Panama. Refugees and migrants brave hazardous jungles of Darien Gap on their way north

Genesis Gonzalez, 29, hugs her four-year-old daughter after making the perilous journey through the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama.

GENEVA – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are calling for a collaborative approach to better respond to the mixed movement of refugees and migrants throughout the Americas. UNHCR and IOM welcome positive initiatives to expand resettlement and other regular pathways in the region, but are concerned about new restrictions on access to asylum following the long overdue lifting of the Title 42 public health order by the United States.

While the number of people approaching the US border has grown in recent years, the majority of the people on the move in the Americas are still hosted by countries in Latin America.  The challenges presented by the movement of refugees and migrants cannot be solved by any country in isolation. Real progress can only be made through joint efforts to address the causes of displacement and irregular migration; through support to communities that are hosting the majority of displaced people; providing access to fair and effective asylum procedures and other legal stay arrangements; and facilitating access to safe and regular pathways as alternatives to perilous journeys.

A more effective response calls for collaborative engagement by States and other stakeholders to expand access to protection and asylum and regular pathways to migration, while strengthening solutions.

The United States-led expansion of refugee resettlement and other regular pathways is a welcome step that can present real alternatives for desperate people who are risking their lives to find safety and solutions. Facilitated and expanded access to resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian parole and labour mobility schemes can save lives and protect people from smuggling, trafficking and other forms of violence. Managed properly, they can also help support national economies facing labour shortages. UNHCR and IOM are ready to redouble efforts to work with all countries, using existing regional mechanisms to make this a reality. But expansion of resettlement and other regular pathways cannot replace the responsibility of States to provide people with access to territory and asylum procedures.

Barriers preventing people from exercising the fundamental human right to seek asylum are unacceptable and contrary to States’ international obligations. The new US Government Rule that restricts access for asylum-seekers who arrive irregularly after transiting through another country is incompatible with principles of international refugee law.

IOM and UNHCR also stress that any return agreements between States – including of asylum-seekers to a third country – needs to uphold in practice the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition on forced return of people to situations where their lives and safety are at risk. Returns should only be conducted following due process and necessary safeguards, and in accordance with States’ obligations under international law.  

The challenges facing the Americas call for ambitious, innovative and principled cooperation among all stakeholders based on international law and genuine solidarity to advance protection and solutions for refugees and migrants, in line with the Global Compact on Refugees, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, as well as the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.

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