Press Release

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the IACHR observes serious challenges in the comprehensive protection of the rights of refugees and urges States to adopt effective and urgent measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

June 20, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) observes the growing challenges for the comprehensive protection of the human rights of displaced persons with protection needs in the Americas, and calls on the States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt measures to address the multiple dynamics of forced displacement. Likewise, it urges the States to respect and strengthen the mechanisms for the comprehensive protection of the human rights of displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers.
The Commission notes that human mobility exhibits a complex set of elements and that it usually occurs as a result of a combination of push and pull factors. In particular, forced displacement stands out as a multi-causal phenomenon, generated by factors such as persecution, internal conflicts, massive human rights violations, and organized crime. According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during 2020, the region will continue to experience large-scale forced displacement, with some 18.7 million displaced people across the continent, including more than 5 million Venezuelans seeking protection in almost all the countries of the region. Along with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the IACHR observes with concern the crisis of forced displacement in the region of the northern triangle of Central America. In this regard, in the Northern Triangle of Central America, nearly 800 thousand people have been displaced by different factors such as poverty, the action of criminal gangs and other factors; in Nicaragua, the intensified persecution in the country since the April 2018 crisis would have resulted in tens of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers; likewise, it is observed that the restrictions on access to the refuges on the southern border of the United States have been exacerbated.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission expresses its special concern about the impacts of policies restricting international mobility of people, closing borders, suspending procedural guarantees, and interrupting the operation of immigration hearings and institutions and of national asylum systems in the region. In this sense, it calls on the States to adopt various measures, such as: i) guaranteeing access to the territory and protection procedures, especially that of refuge, to people who are forced to move from their countries, as well as respecting the principle of non-refoulement; ii) make public health measures compatible with the guarantees of due process in the procedures for determining the status of the refugee, as well as with other relevant protection mechanisms; iii) strengthen efforts to respond to the massive mixed migratory movements of people displaced by humanitarian crises in the region; iv) strengthen actions to guarantee the principles of non-discrimination and the intersectional approach of public policies, especially considering the disproportionate and differentiated impact based on structural discriminations of gender, race, age, social class, and, v) strengthening actions in times emergency and health crisis to prevent and avoid xenophobia, stigmatizing discourses and any violence or violation of rights. These recommendations are enshrined in the Inter-American Principles on the human rights of all migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and victims of human trafficking in the Americas, in IACHR Resolution 01/2020 on Pandemic and Human Rights, as well as complementary pronouncements on the protection of refugee populations in the context of the pandemic.
Regarding access to territory and asylum and complementary protection procedures, the Commission observes the persistence of practices restricting access to territories in the Americas, accompanying national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this sense, the IACHR observes with special concern the use of health security arguments to reduce access to national asylum systems, the acceleration of expulsion processes from countries, which jeopardizes respect for the principle of non-refoulement, and proposals for structural changes in asylum systems that would increase obstacles for people seeking refuge.
On the other hand, the IACHR warns that by 2020, the global health emergency would have potentiated the pre-existing risks presented by serious humanitarian crises at the global and regional levels. According to the UNHCR evaluation, the IACHR observes that the increasing chronic violence and insecurity, together with the restrictions taken in response to the COVID-19 virus, are increasing the difficulties for tens of thousands of people in northern Central America. In this sense, violence has forced some 720,00 people in the region to move and, during the pandemic, it exposed thousands of other displaced people to situations of confinement in insecure domestic environments or to suffer disproportionately from the socioeconomic impacts of the health emergency, especially refugee women, girls and boys, which, as the Commission noted in the Press Release, reinforces the need for a gender perspective and an intersectional approach. Likewise, through its different monitoring mechanisms, the IACHR notes that the blockades related to COVID-19 in countries from the region have resulted in an increase in the use of informal routes and insecure and more violent border crossings, which place previously displaced people in an even more vulnerable situation.
Regarding the fight against xenophobia and stigmatizing discourse, the Commission reiterates its call to the States contemplated in its Resolution 01/2020 on Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, in order to implement measures to prevent and combat these factors of discrimination and avoid the use of discriminatory language and incentives for violent reactions by private actors and public authorities. Therefore, the IACHR reiterates that migration policies and public discourses focused on the comprehensive protection of the human rights of migrants and displaced persons in general, provide better environments for the early and rapid identification of corresponding protection needs, such as refuge.
The Commission also recognizes the work of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who, at this time of pandemic and health emergency, have contributed and continue to contribute in the most diverse roles in the response to the health emergency in the region. The IACHR highlights the case of refugees and asylum seekers who apply their health training, medical training, as well as human energy in actions of direct assistance and essential services. In this regard, it recalls its recommendation to the States to evaluate, in accordance with the instruments and regulations that they have the possibility of strengthening health personnel and other services with over-demand due to the context of the pandemic, through the incorporation of trained migrants and refugees, facilitating the necessary procedures for their professional activity.
In this context, the IACHR urges States to constantly evaluate, in their national asylum systems, the ways of expansion and strengthening of refuge, such as the possibilities of applying the expanded definition established by the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, to evaluate the new risks and displacement factors. In addition, the Commission calls on States to take into account  the 2014 Declaration and Plan of Action of Brazil, which invites countries to make commitments such as improving analysis and knowledge; address the causes of displacement; strengthen institutional capacities to promote recognition of refugee status; and expand regular, safe, accessible and affordable channels of migration. Likewise, the Commission highlights the importance of coordinated actions between States, the international community and different social sectors - such as non-governmental organizations, the academy, companies, host communities and other actors - in the development and implementation of the durable solutions that constitute the core of comprehensive protection of the rights of refugees. The IACHR highlights that such protection coincides with the spirit of regional declarations on the matter and its own recommendations and the Inter-American legal standards, as recommended in its Resolution 2/2018 on forced displacement in Venezuela.
Furthermore, the Commission takes note of the efforts that various countries in the region have made to address prolonged situations of forced displacement  from Venezuela and other countries within the region. This, so that this population can exercise rights such as access to contact the asylum authorities, access to a territory, and special protection of non-refoulement, among other guarantees established in International Refugee Law.In this sense, the IACHR highlights actions such as the coverage of the rights of the refugee population and their socioeconomic inclusion in Argentina; the measurements of extension of the validity of temporary documents for applicants for refugee status in Bolivia; and the establishment of humanitarian corridors in Colombia, at three international bridges on the Colombia-Venezuela border. In Brazil, according to information provided by the State, the Commission highlights the implementation of recent measures such as the extension of the validity of residence permits and the modernization of computer systems; the inclusion without discrimination of migrants and refugees in the emergency income program in response to the pandemic; the application of the definition of the Cartagena Declaration for the recognition of Venezuelan people as refugees, who also benefited from the continuity of the Operation Warm Welcome; and measures against xenophobia.
Considering the above, the IACHR calls on States to strengthen national and regional efforts in the framework of World Refugee Day to address the factors that drive the displacement of people and urges that with the participation of all social sectors, become agents of change, and take safe, open and regular migration measures so that these individuals who are looking for a promising future are not victims of acts of violence, exploitation or discrimination of any type. 

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. 001/20