“On World Refugee Day,let us reaffirm the importance of solidarity and burden-sharing by theinternational community. Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but theymust not be deprived of their futures.”
~ UN Secretary-GeneralBan 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 worldmarred by armed conflict and mass atrocities, the legislation is needed nowmore than ever, and the US has a moral obligation to enact it.
People around the globe have delighted over the past severalmonths to see millions of ordinary citizens across Africa and the Middle East standup to their governments and fight against systemic human rights abuses in theircountries. Victories have come at great cost, however. TIME estimated that 50,000 Libyan refugees have fled the countrysince civil war broke out. Last week, a UNHCR official expressed concern abouta worsening situation in Yemen, where hundreds of thousands of displacedYemenis are now seeking assistance alongside an equally large group of refugeesfrom the Horn of Africa who have been living temporarily in Yemen. The UN haslikewise registered several hundred thousand Ivoirian refugees in recent weekswho fled political violence and are still too afraid to return to theirhomes.
In fiscal year 2010, the US welcomed 83,180 refugees andasylees, but we can and must do more to ensure that they find security in ourcommunities. We must not turn away others desperately in need of our help.
The Refugee Protection Act seeks to change policies thathave denied safety to deserving people by:
- Eliminating the arbitrary 1-year filing deadlinethat prohibits people who apply for asylum more than one year after arriving inthe US from receiving it;
- Preventing people forced to serve as childsoldiers from being unfairly labeled as “terrorists” and being permanentlybarred from the US;
- Relieving the suffering of immigrants awaitingcourt decisions by ending the mandatory detention of people who ask for asylumat our borders;
- Imposing tougher standards on all immigrationdetention centers. (These would guarantee health professionalsperforming forensic exams the right of generous access to contact visitation withimmigrants); and
- Giving the President the flexibility to grantrefugee status quickly to targeted groups of people in response to emerginghumanitarian crises like the revolutionary movements in the Middle East andNorth Africa.
The Refugee Protection Act is a timely expression of USsupport for the brave people around the world who must struggle for thefundamental rights we are lucky enough to take for granted: freedom fromslavery, oppression, and torture; freedom to vote, organize, and speak freely,and more. Physicians for Human Rights stronglyendorses the bill and Congress’s commitment to protecting survivors ofpersecution.