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ATLANTA – Efrén C. Olivares, Deputy Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Immigrant Justice Project, released the following statement to join the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to observe international World Refugee Day on June 20. For more than two decades, nations around the world, humanitarian aid workers and government officials chose this day to honor the strength, courage and resilient spirit of those who have been forced to flee their homes.

“In 2022, more than 100 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and extreme poverty. That included refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers from scores of countries on every continent. The UN Refugee Agency now projects about 8.3 million refugees will leave Ukraine.

“The U.S. admitted only 11,411 refugees in fiscal year 2021, the lowest number since Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act for people fleeing persecution in their country of origin. This sharp decline fell far below the nation’s cap of 62,500 refugees for 2021.  

“Last year, U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback infamously chased Black Haitian asylum-seekers with reins raised like a lash at the southern border. The recent U.S. accelerated expulsions of Haitian asylum seekers under a practice known as Title 42 has drawn criticism that Black migrants are treated differently than other migrants. Last month, Haitian migrants represented 60 percent of expulsion flights while only representing about 6 percent of border crossers. Abuse, discrimination and even death await Haitian asylum-seekers seeking protection when they are expelled. At least 11 Haitians were killed when their boat capsized, as they sought survival and fled gang-related violence, poverty, political instability and extreme disasters. 

LGBTQ migrants fleeing violence and persecution, also often face remarkably high numbers of sexual assault and extreme violence along their perilous journey. Discrimination and abuse continue at immigration detention centers, often with impunity. Racist and homophobic actions on both sides of the border for migrants that seek protection – legally available under domestic and international law – violate the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. 

“The SPLC is defending the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in a myriad of ways. We confront the rejection of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border through a series of lawsuits that seek to protect their rights. This month, the SPLC urged revisions to a new federal rule that denies due process rights to asylum seekers. Through our Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), we represent hundreds of asylum seekers who are trapped in dehumanizing prisons contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to help them secure their release, defend their human rights and ultimately obtain protection and a safe haven in America. 

“Today we honor their voices, powerful stories, and resilience. As Dayana, one former SPLC SIFI client bravely stated, ‘My journey to the U.S. and path to protection was difficult and traumatizing. I suffered prolonged detention in a Louisiana jail while seeking asylum, which was especially horrible for me as a trans woman. As a political dissident, I speak out today against this injustice not only for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, but for all of my fellow asylum seekers whose lives have been directly harmed by failed U.S. foreign and domestic policy.’ We can and must do better. 

“We renew the SPLC’s urgent call upon the administration for equitable protections for refugees and asylum seekers, especially for those who face discrimination and abuse. As we commemorate World Refugee Day, the SPLC remains committed to defending the rights of all migrants to receive a just, humane and welcoming immigration system honoring their human rights.” 

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