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UNHCR urges United States to not implement proposed barrier to asylum

Speeches and statements

UNHCR urges United States to not implement proposed barrier to asylum

27 March 2023
A young man seeking asylum in the United States stays at a shelter in southern California after arriving in the country.

Washington, DC - As part of the U.S. government’s public rule-making process, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has filed comments urging the government to reconsider its proposed regulation to respond to asylum seekers arriving at its southern border. UNHCR’s comments conclude that key elements of the proposal are incompatible with principles of international refugee law. UNHCR also provided information on alternative ways to address the complex challenges at the border, while upholding the United States’ long tradition of protecting those forced to flee. 

As proposed, the regulation would restrict the fundamental human right to seek asylum for people who passed through another country and arrived in the United States without authorization. The Refugee Convention recognizes that refugees may find themselves compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly. UNHCR is particularly concerned that, even with the regulation’s grounds for rebuttal, this would lead to cases of refoulement – the forced return of people to situations where their lives and safety would be at risk – which is prohibited under international law. 

UNHCR recognizes the need to effectively address the growing and complex movements of refugees and migrants in the Americas. People on the move are exposed to serious risks, including exploitation and abuse by criminal networks. UNHCR also acknowledges that the United States is facing significant challenges associated with the scale of arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants at its southern border. UNHCR is committed to supporting the United States in broader reform efforts, including to improve the fairness, quality and efficiency of the asylum system. In its comment, UNHCR elaborated best practices in establishing such systems, including streamlined border processing, reception and registration as well as access to legal aid. 

UNHCR has also welcomed initiatives from the United States to expand safe and legal pathways. These much-needed pathways, however, must not come at the expense of access to asylum and they need to be accompanied by strengthened processing capacities and effective systems to manage entry and reception arrangements at regular U.S. border points. 

In line with the goals of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection and other international commitments, it is essential that countries work together to secure collaborative and coordinated responses to increasing movements of refugees and migrants in the Americas. UNHCR stands ready to support these efforts throughout the region, including with the United States, with a focus on genuine responsibility sharing, strengthening asylum systems and building safe pathways to protection and solutions.  

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