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Press Release

IRC responds to US coronavirus policy shifts on US refugee resettlement program and asylum seekers

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds today to reports indicating that the Trump administration has temporarily suspended resettlement, following the decision by the International Office of Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to suspend travel for refugees chosen for resettlement.

This decision also follows reports that the Administration is planning to block asylum seekers from entering the U.S. to seek protection. Under this policy, asylum seekers would be immediately returned to Mexico and summarily denied due process, in violation of domestic and international laws

On US refugee resettlement, Jennifer Sime, Senior Vice President of Resettlement, Asylum, and Integration said:

“Suspending resettlement departures will be extremely disappointing to the families who have gone through long and detailed application processes, screenings and preparations. While travel restrictions are unavoidable and necessary to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, we urge all resettlement countries to ensure that these measures are indeed temporary and remain in place only as long as justified by public health reasons. Measures to restrict the entry of refugees should be no more severe than restrictions facing other foreigners at this time. In addition to families waiting to resettle for the first time, many refugees will have to wait to be reunited with their family members in America.”

“This global health emergency must not become a reason to permanently restrict or retract resettlement programs once this emergency passes. For all of us, the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences are leading to great uncertainty and questions for people awaiting resettlement. As people who qualify for resettlement are by their very nature particularly vulnerable, they need extra support during these challenging times. Agencies working on the ground need to make every effort to ensure their protection, safety, and health which must not be compromised by delays in their departure. The people whose resettlement process is put on hold should also receive regular updates on their case.”

On Asylum, Olga Byrne, the IRC’s Director of U.S. Immigration said:

“While the administration can and should take strong, proportionate measures to manage risks to public health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a blanket policy barring individuals from seeking asylum in the U.S. is not the answer. The acute safety needs of asylum seekers -- people already fleeing for their lives -- justify a more nuanced approach than this recklessly indiscriminate policy.

“Such a measure to block all persons seeking asylum would be discriminatory and violate U.S. and international law, and specifically the principle of nonrefoulement, that no one should be forced to return to a country where they would be in likely danger of persecution.”

“Policy decisions should be guided by public health officials on how best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Following the guidance of public health experts, the administration should put in place reasonable and appropriate measures to ensure the safety of all. An outright border closure will inevitably entail confusion, disorder, and harm.”

The physical health and safety of our staff, our clients, and our communities is the International Rescue Committee’s top priority globally. Our offices across the United States are strictly following and distributing local public health guidance, with even more intensive guidance for harder-hit communities we serve, such as those in Seattle and Northern California. We are dedicated to staff safety and mitigation of the spread of COVID-19.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.