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UNHCR chief calls on US to end COVID-19 asylum restrictions at the Mexico border

In a statement published on Thursday, Filippo Grandi welcomed the Government’s plans to implement “much-needed reform and capacity building to manage border processes”. He also praised the positive steps taken to exempt unaccompanied children and some families especially those vulnerable to the “severe (COVID) restrictions” imposed at the start of the pandemic.

Inadequate response

However, he warned that a system that allows a small number of asylum seekers to be admitted daily, “carries with it a number of risks and is not an adequate response”.

Last week, the Biden Administration agreed to allow up to 7,750 asylum-seekers stranded in Mexico to enter the US each month and to process up to 250 applications daily for the most vulnerable.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief added that there is “an urgent need” to take further steps to provide access at ports of entry which remain closed to most asylum-seekers due to the Title 42 public health order, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The measure has been in place since March last year.


Mr. Grandi explained that the Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying them access to asylum procedures.

He recalled that guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum seekers are the core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of those on the move.

“The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico”, added the High Commissioner.

Public health and asylum ‘fully compatible’

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), has maintained since the start of the pandemic that protecting public health and protecting the human right of access to asylum are “fully compatible”.

The agency reminded that, at the height of the pandemic, many countries put in place protocols such as health screening, testing, and quarantine measures, to simultaneously protect both public health and the right to seek asylum.

“I encourage the US administration to continue its work to strengthen its asylum system and diversify safe pathways, so asylum seekers are not forced to resort to dangerous crossings facilitated by smugglers”, said Mr. Grandi, while offering the full support of his agency to support the implementation of such a decision.

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