Press Release

World Refugee Day: IACHR Emphasizes the Importance of the Right to Seek and Receive Asylum

June 20, 2014

Washington, D.C. – On this World Refugee Day celebrated today, and in the year in which the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984 is commemorated, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses the importance of the right to seek and receive asylum and the principle and right of non-refoulement as human rights that the States of the region should ensure for those persons who have been forced to flee their homes and leave their countries.

“Historically, our continent has made significant advances in the protection of refugees, but reality tends to surpass us,” said Commissioner Felipe González, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, whose mandate also includes the situation of asylum seekers and refugees. “Various forms of persecution, discrimination and violence force thousands of persons to leave their countries. They flee out of desperation, despite being aware of the abuses and dangers they will face in their journey by smugglers, traffickers and corrupt agents to reach a safe haven. This is the paradox of the refugee, fleeing for their lives, all the while knowing that they could die trying. For this reason, we call upon States to ensure that those at risk have access to the protection conferred by asylum. States should implement measures that guarantee the full enjoyment of all human rights of asylum seekers and refugees,” he added.

Over the years, the States of the Americas have developed a strong tradition in the protection of persons who have been forced to flee their home countries because of threats to their lives, safety or freedom. These developments have strengthened the recognition of the right of asylum as a human right and are advances from our region that have contributed to the progressive development of international refugee law.

Despite the progress, the years have also brought with them new challenges in the causes of migration and forced displacement in the region. Through monitoring of the human rights situation in the 35 Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Commission has observed that, in recent years, in addition to the traditional forms of persecution and situations, such as armed conflicts, generalized violence, violations of human rights, new situations, such as violence caused by organized crime, natural disasters or those caused by humans, large-scale development projects or violence based on gender identity or sexual orientation are also forcing thousands of persons to flee their countries. According to figures of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2013, there were 514,796 refugees, 291,164 persons in refugee-like situations and 130,299 asylum-seekers in the Americas. According to UNHCR, persons in refugee-like situations includes groups of persons who are outside their country or territory of origin and who face protection risks similar to those of refugees, but for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained.

These forms of persecution and violence have brought about mixed migratory flows in the region, including persons from outside the Americas. Many of these persons require international protection. The new dynamics of forced migration require an approach that guarantees the international protection and the protection of the human rights of the persons who are fleeing. In this regard, the Commission expresses its concern at the decline in the rates of recognition of refugee status in some countries of the region. It is equally disturbing that there are still countries in the region that have not adopted the norms and procedures that ensure the effective enjoyment of the right to seek and receive asylum or the principle of non-refoulement. Other challenges that the IACHR has identified relates to the fact that some countries of the region lack qualified persons to manage the refugee status determination process, especially in the case of children and adolescents, tight deadlines to apply for the recognition of refugee status, or there are undue delays in resolving the process.

The full and proper integration of asylum seekers and refugees in countries of asylum is also a challenge for the protection of the human rights of these persons. The right to work is not always a reality due to the existence of patterns of discrimination and xenophobia affecting these people. Asylum seekers and refugees also encounter many difficulties when attempting to assert their economic, social and cultural rights, such as access to public education and to health services or the right to decent and adequate housing. These situations must be corrected in order to really recognize as subject of human rights those persons who are in greatest need of protection, asylum seekers and refugees.

As we commemorate World Refugee Day, the Commission calls on the Member States of the Organization of American States to adopt policies, laws, procedures and practices that ensure effective protection of the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

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

No. 68/14