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Pushing Back Protection: How Offshoring and Externalization Imperil the Right to Asylum

“...with the goal of preventing asylum seekers and migrants from reaching their borders, these nations have chipped away at the principle, claiming compliance with legal obligations while in practice rendering safety elusive for refugees fleeing harm."

A new joint report from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and FWD.us traces restrictions on the ability of vulnerable people to seek asylum across three continents in recent history and describes the deadly impact these policies have had on people seeking protection around the world.

International asylum law first emerged following the Holocaust and other atrocities during World War II. The world bore witness to the genocide of millions at the hands of brutal dictatorships, while powerful nations showed callous disregard for people seeking asylum, turning them straight back to harm’s way. The United States participated in this practice, refusing safety to tens of thousands of Jewish children and adult refugees under the pretext of national security.

From these push-backs emerged two international treaties, the 1952 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol, which created the framework for asylum law at a global level. Key to this framework is the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents countries from returning asylum seekers to places where they may face persecution or torture. Most nations, including affluent countries such as the United States, Australia, and European Union Member States, ratified these treaties, incorporating the core principle of non-refoulement into their domestic laws. However, in recent decades, with the goal of preventing asylum seekers and migrants from reaching their borders, these nations have chipped away at the principle, claiming compliance with legal obligations while in practice rendering safety elusive for refugees fleeing harm. These policies have caused unimaginable human suffering and loss, particularly for Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers from the continent of Africa protest their entrapment and detention in southern Mexico.

This report calls on the United States government to dismantle these policies and uphold the right to asylum.”

Ending these policies which deny asylum seekers their legal rights is within reach. To do so requires exposing underlying assumptions that inform externalization policies. Brick by brick, the United States, Australia, and European Union Member States have walled off asylum seekers and returned them to harm. This report calls on the United States government to dismantle these policies and uphold the right to asylum.

Hangar where Haitian asylum seekers were detained in Guantánamo Bay.

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