UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urges states to lift remaining pandemic-related asylum restrictions


At least more than two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic 20 countries around the world still deny people fleeing conflict, violence and persecution access to asylum because of public health measures. Some of them Countries apply exceptions to entry for asylum seekers in contradictory or arbitrary ways.

The latest number of denied access to asylum represents a Improving the way countries deal with receiving asylum seekers since the outbreak of the pandemic. At the height of the state of emergency, 100 countries initially restricted access for asylum-seekers, putting already vulnerable people at even greater risk.

While states have the sovereign right to regulate the entry of foreigners, the right to asylum and the prohibition of return in dangerous situations are core principles of international law. This also prohibits countries from rejecting asylum seekers at the borders.

“I appeal to states that continue to maintain these restrictions to lift them as a matter of urgency so that people can seek safety and protection,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“With wars and violence raging around the world and people fleeing persecution, these measures deny the basic human right to asylum. Women, men and children continue to be turned away at land borders and at sea; or be returned or transferred to countries where their lives or liberty may be threatened.”

UNHCR has repeatedly warned that measures to deny entry to asylum-seekers at borders not only violate international law, but are also not necessary to address public health risks.

Throughout the pandemic, UNHCR has worked with States, urging them to comply with their international legal obligations towards asylum seekers and providing guidance and technical advice on how to protect refugees’ rights while protecting public health.

The practice of most states that have received asylum seekers during the pandemic shows that it is possible to manage public health risks, for example through testing and quarantine and other reasonable and proportionate measures.

A recent assessment of protecting refugee rights during the pandemic found that some restrictive public health practices put in place at the height of the pandemic have been maintained as safety measures.

“I worry that measures will be enacted under the pretense of responding to this COVID-19 is being used as a cover to exclude and deny asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution,” Grandi said. “COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to ignore the law and refugee rights.”

The UNHCR mapping of COVID-19 related border restrictions for asylum seekers can be found here: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/dataviz/127

Notes to the editor:

Figures are based on publicly available information and monitoring by UNHCR staff and partners at the country and local levels, as presented on UNHCR’s COVID19 Temporary Measures and Impact on Protection online dashboard. UNHCR has attempted to verify the information through internal sources and other appropriate research methods. Corrections to the information contained herein are welcome and will be reflected in the regular updates.

A joint assessment of protecting the rights of refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic, commissioned under the auspices of the COVID-19 Global Evaluation Coalition, is expected to be released in the coming days. The evaluation confirms that there is clear evidence that some states have used the pandemic as an alleged pretext for imposing restrictive measures that affect the rights of refugees. In some cases, restrictive practices put in place at the height of the pandemic for public health reasons have been maintained or reinforced as safety measures.

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