IACHR Issues Practical Guide on Protecting Family Unity and Reunification in Human Mobility Contexts during the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 21, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has issued, in collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a practical guide on how to protect family unity and reunification more effectively in human mobility and mixed movement contexts during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This publication is part of a series of guides issued by the IACHR to address the impact of the pandemic on human rights. The guide makes recommendations to States, so they may protect family unity, prevent separation, and take any necessary measures to ensure the reunification of families who may have been separated in contexts associated with human mobility.

Over the past few years, the Commission has observed with concern the application of migration policies aimed at discouraging migrant movements, as well as the impact of these types of policies on effective enjoyment of human rights by individuals in human mobility contexts, particularly in cases of family separation associated to mobility. These migrant movements involve families and unaccompanied or separated children and adolescents, who are on the move due to violence or persecution and who require international protection or who leave their homes in search of better opportunities or family reunification. In this context, the IACHR stresses States' obligation to comply with the principle of non-refoulement and to preserve family unity and the best interests of children and adolescents.

In accordance with the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, the principle of family unity and reunification must be granted the utmost priority in any decisions on migration status, respecting the best interests of children and adolescents. States must also refrain from separating families during procedures regarding asylum, migration, or deportation. The only exception concerns separations that are in the best interests of the affected children and adolescents, which would need to be assessed by the relevant authorities.

This Practical Guide identifies the challenges that States face to preserve family unity and prevent separation. It also looks at the applicable inter-American standards—given States' international obligations—and issues recommendations to preserve family unity and reunification, as well as to prevent separation and minimize its impact when it happens. The IACHR further stresses the need to address the structural causes of forced displacements of people. The Commission notes that implementing the safeguards associated with family reunification procedures requires an adequate strategy for access to asylum procedures, mechanisms for document provision, and safe conditions for travel within specific countries and across borders.

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 and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 154/21