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Aspects of US restrictions on asylum-seekers may violate international protections, UNHCR chief says



Aspects of US restrictions on asylum-seekers may violate international protections, UNHCR chief says

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday he understands that the Biden administration enacted new restrictions on asylum-seekers entering the United States, but cautioned that some aspects of the executive order may violate refugee protection required under international law.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, spoke to The Associated Press as his agency issued its annual “Global Trends” report for 2023.

The UNHCR report found that the cumulative number of people who have been subjected to forced displacement rose to 120 million last year — 6 million more than in the year before. The refugee agency noted that the total count was roughly equivalent to the entire population of Japan.

The report found that three-fourths of the people who were forcibly displaced — including both refugees driven abroad and people displaced inside their own countries — lived in poor or middle-income countries. Grandi insisted this was a sign of how migrant and refugee flows were not just an issue for the rich world.

He lamented that crises in Africa have been largely overlooked, particularly in Sudan, where some 10.8 million were displaced at the end of last year, after conflict erupted between forces loyal to rival generals in April 2023.

Grandi said the world’s focus on crises faced by refugees and internally displaced people has largely centered on the Palestinian territory of Gaza — where a devastating and deadly war erupted in October last year — and Ukraine, which has been saddled by Russia’s invasion since February 2022.

He lamented how the world has largely overlooked the refugee crisis spawned by the war in Sudan.

The United States, meanwhile, has faced the “most complex challenge” when it comes to refugees of any country in the developed world, Grandi said — alluding to an influx across the U.S.-Mexican border.

He criticized the Biden administration’s plans to enact new restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the border — seen by some as a political maneuver ahead of national elections in November — as a possible violation of international humanitarian law. But he acknowledged that the administration’s ambitions to resettle some 125,000 refugees in the U.S. amounted to “a very shining example of U.S. generosity.”

In the U.S. on Wednesday, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the administration over the recent directive on asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move by the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

Under pressure from the U.S. government, Mexico has stepped up arrests to keep migrants from reaching the U.S. border. Mexico sends migrants back south on buses and releases them — a tactic migrant advocates say is intended to exhaust their resources. But it also exposes them to repeated extortion from authorities and kidnapping by criminal groups.

The UNHCR report also highlighted difficulties faced by refugees and internally displaced people amid conflict in countries like Congo and Myanmar, and noted that Syria remains the world’s largest displacement crisis, with nearly 14 million people forcibly displaced both inside the country and abroad.

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