UN takes US to task about separating migrant children from families
Governments in many rich countries have adopted ‘despicable’ rhetoric on migration, says UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi
Geneva — The United Nations refugee agency is very concerned about the US separating the children of asylum seekers from their families, and has raised the issue with Washington, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.
In an interview with Reuters, Grandi said the Trump administration had legitimate concerns about how to manage asylum applications, noting that the US has the largest backlog of asylum cases in the world.
"One positive sign is that the administration wants to invest more resources in reducing this backlog," he said. But Washington needed to find ways to manage the flow "without penalising the people themselves, people who oftentimes have very valid reasons to seek asylum".
"On measures that result in separating children from their families, we are very concerned and have expressed this concern," he said.
Grandi said governments in many rich countries had adopted "despicable" rhetoric on migration, ignoring their duty to help people fleeing war or persecution.
UNHCR’s annual report, published on Tuesday, showed the global number of refugees grew by a record 2.9-million in 2017 to 25.4-million, with another 43.1-million people forcibly displaced in their own countries.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says Washington must find ways to manage flow of asylum seekers without penalising people
The vast majority of refugees remain in poor countries, with only small numbers seeking refuge in the West.
"We’re not talking about unmanageable numbers moving to the rich countries," he said.
Governments should explain why it is right to help refugees, "but the contrary has happened. Governments have projected an image of emergency, of invasion, and actually, unfortunately many political leaders have capitalised on that to gain votes.
"They’ve built fear to build their electoral bases. And I think that this is despicable and this is irresponsible."
Some poorer countries like Bangladesh had gone beyond their international obligations by accepting huge numbers of refugees.
UNHCR tries to help rich countries to accept refugees after they have fled into overburdened places such as Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya or Pakistan.
But such resettlement programmes were a drop in the ocean, Grandi said, and they were at risk of drying up.
Last year about 60,000-70,000 people were resettled, which he described as a "gesture of burden sharing".
The US has the biggest resettlement programme in the world, with 110,000 approved places in the final year under former President Barack Obama.
But numbers have fallen sharply under Trump, who lowered the cap this year to 45,000.
Grandi said he feared the actual number would be much lower because of security vetting and cuts in funding.