The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says plans by the Joe Biden administration to expand restrictions on people seeking refuge in the United States (U.S.) are “not in line with refugee law standards”.
According to reports, the reforms will deny migrants the chance to seek asylum in the U.S. if they crossed from Mexico into the U.S. without permission.
But Biden also said that up to 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela could come legally, if they meet a series of requirements, including finding a sponsor and demonstrate they are able to afford a plane ticket.
UNHCR spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, told journalists in Geneva on Friday that while the UN agency welcomed the expanded safe and regular pathways for entry to the U.S. for some, the new measures “must not preclude people forced to flee from exercising their fundamental human right to seek safety”.
Due to the “multi-faceted” nature of the Administration’s announcement, UNHCR is seeking additional details and analysing the likely impact of the measures, Cheshirkov said, which would enable an “unprecedented number of people” from the four nationalities to enter.
In addition to considering the well-being of thousands already on the move from Latin and Central America, the agency raised its concern over the expansion of the controversial COVID pandemic emergency “Title 42” health restrictions order, to expel Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans without weighing the dangers they were fleeing or the risks and hardships many of them will face in Mexico.
UNHCR had made continuous calls for it to be lifted, and the issue has provoked a major court battle in the U.S., with the Supreme Court ruling at the end of December that the policy allowing migrants to be turned away at the border on health grounds should remain for now.
“What we are reiterating is that this is not in line with refugee law standards and that to establish a link between safe and legal pathways which have been announced.
“We welcome the expansion of those on one side that are accessible for some people with curtailment for the right to seek asylum for many more who are ineligible for these pathways,” Cheshirkov said.
UNHCR will continue to engage with the U.S. and other governments, to expand safe pathways and develop protection and solutions for asylum seekers – in line with international standards, the spokesperson said.