In a statement released Thursday, Filippo Grandi welcomed the government’s plans to implement “the necessary reform and capacity building to manage border processes”. He also praised the positive measures taken to exempt unaccompanied minors and some families, particularly those vulnerable to the “severe restrictions (COVID)” imposed at the start of the pandemic.
However, he warned that a system that allows the daily admission of a small number of asylum seekers, “it carries a number of risks and is not an adequate response“.
Last week, the Biden administration agreed to allow up to 7,750 asylum seekers stranded in Mexico to enter the United States each month and process up to 250 applications per day for the most vulnerable.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) the chief added that there is “an urgent need” to take further measures to provide access to ports of entry which remain closed to most asylum seekers due to Title 42 public health order, by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The measure has been in effect since March last year.
Mr. Grandi explained that the Title 42 order it has resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying them access to asylum procedures.
He recalled that guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of refoulement of asylum seekers are the fundamental precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Refugee Act, which governments are required to abide by to protect the rights and lives of those who move.
“The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico,” added the High Commissioner.
Public health and asylum ‘fully compatible’
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has argued since the beginning of the pandemic that the protection of public health and the protection of the human right of access to asylum are “fully compatible”.
The agency recalled that, at the height of the pandemic, many countries have put in place protocols such as health screening, testing and quarantine measures, to simultaneously protect both public health and the right to seek asylum.
“I encourage the US administration to continue its work to strengthen its asylum system and diversify safe routes so that asylum seekers are not forced to resort to dangerous trafficker-facilitated crossings,” said Grandi, offering full support of his agency to support the implementation of this decision.