World Refugee Day: IACHR Calls on States to Adopt Measures to Guarantee Comprehensive Protection for the Human Rights of Asylum-Seekers, Refugees, and People in Need of Protection from New and Ongoing Challenges in the Americas

June 20, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) noted the persistence of certain challenges in the Americas and the escalation of new situations that demand guarantees for the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and those needing protection in the region. In response, the IACHR calls on the States of the Americas to adopt measures with a human rights and intersectionality approach to ensure the comprehensive protection of asylum seekers, refugees, and people in need of protection.

In recent years, the IACHR has observed an increase in large-scale mixed migration movements in the region, mainly from Central America, Mexico, and Venezuela. Factors such as deteriorating living conditions as a result of widespread violence, organized crime, and gender-based violence are causing people to move much more frequently in search of some form of protection. Another cause for concern is the recent increase in movements of children and adolescents who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families and need protection. The IACHR has also observed the emergence of new social and political causes of displacement that have converged to give rise to large-scale mixed migratory movements. These causes are compounded by the current health emergency and climate-related factors, resulting in new protection challenges for States.

In its press release of April 1, 2021, the IACHR underlined that States are continuing to implement measures that tend to: 1) outsource migration control; 2) deploy the armed forces, military police, and other security forces with military profiles and training to perform migration management tasks at borders; 3) increase the use of immigration detention and deportation or removal procedures that do not entail due process guarantees; and 4) limit access to States' territories and migratory, asylum, and international protection procedures, particularly by using the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to respond to it as a justification. This situation was also noted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) when it pointed out that concerns relating to the refoulement of people in movement have increased with the militarization of borders and the increase in irregular migration movements.

The IACHR has drawn attention to the differentiated, intersectional impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the effective enjoyment of the human rights of particularly vulnerable populations, such as refugees, asylum seekers, or people covered by protective measures. These situations have drawn attention to the lack of differentiated, intersectional policies to safeguard the human rights of people in movement. In response, the IACHR emphasized that existing protection systems lack a comprehensive, specialized focus that contemplates the intersection of human movement with factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, social class, age, being victims of crime or human trafficking, and disabilities, among others. Given that multiple factors cause people to leave their countries of origin, the IACHR observed the need to include an intersectional view of human mobility that contemplates issues such as gender, age, and diversity as structural core areas that shape the conditions for effective access to protection procedures. This is especially the case for groups of people who face greater risks due to different factors of vulnerability and discrimination that are interrelated with human movement.

Furthermore, in its press release of April 17, 2020, the IACHR noted how actions such as border closures and partial or full lockdowns have made it hard for people who need protection to leave and transit through countries and reach their destinations. Despite these obstacles, people seeking protection have continued to move. According to the latest figures from UNHCR (June 2021), at the end of 2020, 12% of all new asylum applications lodged globally were from citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to UNHCR, multiple factors converge to force these people to leave their homes. In addition, a total of 171,800 Venezuelan refugees were recorded, as well as 3.9 million displaced Venezuelans outside their country who have not yet been formally granted refugee status.

On the matter of Venezuelans, the IACHR noted that progress had been made on legislation to regularize migration in States in the region and that public policies had been implemented to integrate migrants into local society, such as the adoption of the Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelans in Colombia. However, it noted with concern the lack of medium- and long-term measures adopted by host States for populations of refugees and displaced persons under their jurisdiction that would allow them to integrate into society, particularly in terms of access to and effective enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. These circumstances are forcing these people to continue to move in search of protection and integration, which is making them even more vulnerable. In this regard, the IACHR called on States in the region to continue advancing toward adopting measures that include lasting solutions with intersectional approaches that lead to the effective integration and inclusion of migrants in local society.

The IACHR also acknowledged the efforts that countries in the region are making to protect refugees, asylum seekers, or people in need of protection. According to information provided to the IACHR, the States that form part of the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS) have created a comprehensive response model that complies with the provisions of the Global Compact on Refugees. According to the information in question, this will enable protection and response mechanisms to be established and will accelerate the process of creating lasting solutions to improve the resilience of refugees, asylum seekers, displaced populations, and their host communities. The States in question identified the need to strengthen spaces for regional cooperation to continue improving international protection mechanisms and the quest for comprehensive responses and durable solutions.

Furthermore, in the Preliminary Observations of its working visit to Mexico in December 2021 and January 2021, the IACHR observed that Mexico has allegedly become the main destination country for refugees or people in need of protection. According to the latest figures from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), the number of applications submitted to it between 2013 and 2021 has allegedly increased by more than 3%. As of May 2021, a total of 41,195 people have allegedly applied for asylum in Mexico. This compares to 19,083 applications filed during the same period in 2020. During the IACHR virtual working visit to Mexico, COMAR noted that up to 90,000 asylum applications are expected to be filed in Mexico in 2021.

In light of this, the IACHR noted once again that every person has the right to seek and be granted asylum in a foreign territory, in accordance with the legislation of the State and the applicable international conventions. Furthermore, the IACHR underlined how important it is for States to continually evaluate their national asylum systems and to consider expanding and strengthening these, such as by applying the expanded definition established through the 1984 Cartagena Declaration. States should also invest the energy and resources needed to follow up and expand the implementation of the regional commitments set forth in the Cartagena Declaration and the 2014 Brazil Action Plan, which includes the promotion of comprehensive public policies for people in need of protection in the Americas. They should do so taking into account the context of new risks and displacement factors that require the analysis of strategies to expand protection against refoulement.

Likewise, to effectively safeguard the right to seek and receive asylum, the IACHR emphasized that it is States' duty to adopt measures to guarantee that people who require some form of international protection, including unaccompanied children and those who have been separated from their families, are identified and referred quickly to the appropriate authorities. In its report Due Process in Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status and Statelessness and the Granting of Complementary Protection, the IACHR deemed that States must allow entry into their territory to provide access to procedures that enable international protection needs to be assessed and to ensure that the rights and procedural guarantees that form part of the legal framework for such procedures are observed.

According to Resolution 04/19, Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, it is States' duty to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, including the prohibition of rejection at the border and indirect refoulement, with regard to all people seeking asylum or other forms of international protection. This is especially relevant in cases of unaccompanied children and those that have been separated from their families, in accordance with the principles of family unity and children's best interests.

Furthermore, the IACHR once again noted that migration policies and national asylum systems need to include a gender perspective and differentiated, intersectional approaches that take into account different contexts and situations relating to recognition and protection processes that may increase the vulnerabilities to which refugees and asylum seekers may be exposed. This perspective should be in keeping with unrestricted respect for inter-American and international human rights standards.

Considering how vulnerable asylum seekers, refugees, and those in need of protection are as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges they face in obtaining equitable access to health services, the IACHR stressed that in accordance with Resolution 1/20, Pandemics and Human Rights, and Resolution 1/21, Covid-19 Vaccines and Inter-American Human Rights Obligations, States must adopt public policies that respond to differentiated, intersectional, intercultural approaches that allow them to address the multiple forms of discrimination that can exacerbate the obstacles that people face in accessing healthcare and Covid-19 vaccines. Likewise, the national vaccination plans adopted by States should ensure equitable, universal access to vaccines and should expressly include migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other people in need of protection, regardless of their migratory status. On this point, the IACHR urged States to expressly include people in movement in the economic recovery policies and initiatives that they implement to move beyond the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The IACHR deemed that these instruments are important guidelines when it comes to complying with States' international obligations regarding protection and guaranteeing human rights.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 153/21