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PHR Calls on Department of Homeland Security to Stop Classifying Medical Treatment as Giving 'Material Support' to Terrorists

Group Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of Nepali Health Professional Being Blocked from Receiving Asylum

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has filed an amicus brief in the asylum case of a Nepali health professional who provided healthcare in accordance with medical ethics and international law. The individual, referred to as B.T. in the brief, is having his receipt of asylum challenged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though he already has had asylum granted by an immigration judge. The government wants B.T. removed from the country because he provided medical assistance to wounded Maoist rebels in Nepal, which it claims constitutes providing "material support" to a terrorist organization. PHR believes the government's assertion undermines medical ethics, the Geneva Conventions, and the efforts of medical professionals around the world to uphold their profession's obligation to treat all those in need.

"Principles of health ethics and the Geneva Conventions strongly affirm the ethical obligation of health professionals to treat all those in need of assistance, regardless of political, national, ethnic or religious affiliation," stated Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR. "The Department of Homeland Security's objection has no basis in either law or precedent, and it should drop the appeal and let the judge's initial ruling stand. The department's position contradicts the State Department's frequent condemnation of governments that punish healthcare workers for upholding the Hippocratic Oath."

DHS's position is part of an unwarranted broadening of the restrictions on asylum under the guise of expanding what constitutes providing material support to terrorists, as highlighted in the recent Human Rights First report, Abandoning the Persecuted. DHS has refused or significantly delayed granting refugee status to women abducted during the Liberian civil war and forced to work for rebels and to individuals kidnapped from their families by rebels in Colombia.

"The BIA should reject any attempt to portray medical care provided in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath as the provision of 'material support' to terrorists," Rubenstein said. Rubenstein added: "Instead of seeking to return B.T. to Nepal, where both sides have previously threatened or tortured him, the BIA and DHS should be focusing on how to protect a health worker who was simply doing his job."

PHR's Asylum Network assists asylum seekers by conducting mental and physical evaluations to document the forensic evidence of abuse. Our clinicians also use their expertise to educate their colleagues and to inform public policy affecting refugees and asylum seekers. Asylum Network volunteers number more than 500 nationwide.

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.

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