Today, the SPLC is proud to join The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in observing World Refugee Day. Nearly 20 years ago, nations around the world, humanitarian aid workers and government officials chose this day to honor the strength, courage and enduring spirit of those who have been forced to flee their home countries.
In 2020, the number of forcibly displaced people – including asylum seekers – sits at over 70 million worldwide.
Refugees are people who are forced to leave their homes or countries and often are struggling to survive. Their countries are war-torn or riddled with political or civil unrest, or they are escaping drought, famine, persecution, environmental disasters or extreme poverty.
First celebrated on June 20, 2001, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, World Refugee Day is a crucial reminder that we must never stop working to uphold the human rights of those who have been displaced – people who like each and every one of us deserve respect, dignity and protection.
More than half of the world’s refugees are from Syria – where millions of people have fled a brutal civil war that has plagued the country since early 2011. One in every 10 refugees today comes from Afghanistan – a country struggling to recover from U.S. military operations that faces an enormously complicated humanitarian challenge going back decades.
Here in the United States, Venezuelans constitute the largest number of people from any country seeking asylum, with nearly 30,000 Venezuelans applying for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2018. This significant increase in refugees is due to the policies of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which have included detention and torture of political enemies as well as tremendous food and medicine shortages across the country.
The number of Venezuelans seeking safety at U.S. borders, along with asylum seekers from around the world, raises special alarms about the Trump administration’s continued assault on the rights of those attempting to apply for asylum in the U.S. – a violation of international human rights laws and a national disgrace.
The SPLC is confronting the resulting humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border through a series of lawsuits that seek to protect asylum seekers.
In February, the SPLC prevailed in court when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restored a preliminary injunction to block the administration’s illegal “Remain in Mexico” policy – a policy forcing those seeking asylum to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexican border cities before they are able to pursue their asylum claims.
The court also affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction by blocking a rule that would have made people who cross the border between ports of entry ineligible for asylum.
But even as our litigation continues, the administration pursues new ways to severely restrict asylum for those pleading for protection in the U.S. The struggle is far from over.
As we mark this day, the SPLC remains committed to fighting for a world where all refugees can find safety, shelter and respect for their basic human rights.
Photo by Liz Vinson