As the Trump administration threatens to close the southern border to asylum seekers, and deploy armed troops, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reiterates the U.S. government’s legal obligation under the United Nations Refugee Convention, to conduct individualized screenings of migrants arriving at U.S. ports of entry, fleeing persecution in their countries of origin.
Refugee status was established in order to provide international
protection for those with no other option – those whose governments are unable
or unwilling to protect them at home. In countries where widespread violence
and intimidation of citizens goes unchecked, and governments refuse to
investigate or punish perpetrators, victims may have no choice but to flee.
Nery Osorio, LLM, LLL, a forensic and legal expert from Honduras, and PHR consultant, explains that pervasive impunity for human rights violations is a root causes for displacement.
“In the case of Honduras, the massive exodus that we are observing today is due to the failed state of law in which Hondurans currently live. After the coup d’état, nearly a decade ago, the levels of insecurity in the country have increased drastically and the impunity that prevails has caused many to have to leave,” Osorio explains.
In her past investigation with PHR in Honduras, Osorio documented cases of torture by police, summary executions and forced disappearances, yet of 14 victims examined, only six cases reached the pretrial stage. Charges were dismissed in five of these six cases, ignoring forensic evidence from government physicians and the PHR team. In the sixth case, the court agreed that there was enough evidence to go to trial, but the alleged perpetrators were granted amnesty. Today, this sense of impunity still reigns.
“Sadly, the reaction of the government of Honduras to this crisis has been completely erratic. People decide to embark on the journey and put the lives of their children at risk because staying would mean they could be killed at home. For many, their desperation is at a point where they prefer to die trying to obtain a better life than to die in Honduras. The massive emigration of Hondurans will not stop until there is a real policy to protect the most basic rights of Hondurans, reduce poverty, quell violence, and end impunity,” Osorio says.
PHR Executive Director Donna McKay adds that the false narrative in the United States which brands all migrants as criminals is particularly troubling and only serves to further malign asylum-seekers. “Approaching the border in search of asylum is legal. It is not a crime,” McKay says. “When border management policies are designed, implemented, and evaluated, the guiding principles should always be the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, as applicable under international refugee law, to which the U.S. is treaty bound, and US asylum law, at border points of entry. Once a migrant enters the United States and requests asylum– regardless of when or where – they are entitled to have their asylum claim heard. The Trump Administration should be fully committed to ensuring the protection of migrants, and should guarantee a fair and just refugee determination process. Anything less would mean it is failing to meet its obligations under international and domestic law,” McKay says.
PHR urges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Protection, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on putting sufficient measures in place for managing the arrival of migrants instead of arming the border with thousands of troops, instilling fear in border communities and further perpetuating President Trump’s characterization of an “invasion” by migrants. PHR also reiterates that any use of force should be proportionate and bound by the rule of law and discussions about immigration at the south border should be based on facts, not fiction or false characterizations.
PHR also calls on the U.S. administration to work closely with humanitarian groups on reception efforts, in order to ensure that the southern border remains a humane, orderly and efficient zone of operation with the rights of each and every individual respected. PHR will continue to work with experts from countries of origin to end cultures of impunity for human rights violations that cause people to flee their homes and their countries in desperation.
Read more about PHR’s Asylum Network.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.