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PHR Endorses Refugee Protection Act

on June 16, 2011

“On World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm the importance of solidarity and burden-sharing by the international community. Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures.”
     ~ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

With World Refugee Day just around the corner on June 20, Congress has introduced the Refugee Protection Act (RPA) of 2011. In a world marred by armed conflict and mass atrocities, the legislation is needed now more than ever, and the US has a moral obligation to enact it.

People around the globe have delighted over the past several months to see millions of ordinary citizens across Africa and the Middle East stand up to their governments and fight against systemic human rights abuses in their countries. Victories have come at great cost, however. TIME estimated that 50,000 Libyan refugees have fled the country since civil war broke out. Last week, a UNHCR official expressed concern about a worsening situation in Yemen, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Yemenis are now seeking assistance alongside an equally large group of refugees from the Horn of Africa who have been living temporarily in Yemen. The UN has likewise registered several hundred thousand Ivoirian refugees in recent weeks who fled political violence and are still too afraid to return to their homes. 

In fiscal year 2010, the US welcomed 83,180 refugees and asylees, but we can and must do more to ensure that they find security in our communities. We must not turn away others desperately in need of our help.

The Refugee Protection Act seeks to change policies that have denied safety to deserving people by:

  • Eliminating the arbitrary 1-year filing deadline that prohibits people who apply for asylum more than one year after arriving in the US from receiving it;
  • Preventing people forced to serve as child soldiers from being unfairly labeled as “terrorists” and being permanently barred from the US;
  • Relieving the suffering of immigrants awaiting court decisions by ending the mandatory detention of people who ask for asylum at our borders;
  • Imposing tougher standards on all immigration detention centers. (These would guarantee health professionals performing forensic exams the right of generous access to contact visitation with immigrants); and
  • Giving the President the flexibility to grant refugee status quickly to targeted groups of people in response to emerging humanitarian crises like the revolutionary movements in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Refugee Protection Act is a timely expression of US support for the brave people around the world who must struggle for the fundamental rights we are lucky enough to take for granted: freedom from slavery, oppression, and torture; freedom to vote, organize, and speak freely, and more. Physicians for Human Rights strongly endorses the bill and Congress’s commitment to protecting survivors of persecution.

Places: United States