Asylum is a Fundamental Human Right

Asylum is a fundamental human right

Lara Kajs | 14 June 2023 |

Asylum is an ancient concept. It is the idea that people persecuted by their own rulers might be protected by another sovereign authority. After the atrocities of WWII, this principle was passed into international law, sealing that asylum is a fundamental human right and legal status.

Refugees are defined by the Geneva Convention on Refugees and its additional Protocol, a multilateral treaty, which sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum. The Refugee Convention, as it is often referred to, describes the international protections afforded to refugees and asylum seekers. The treaty defines the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum; most importantly to the right not to be returned to their home country – nonrefoulement.

Decision to Flee

The number of migrants requesting international protection has increased exponentially. Every day, men, women, and children flee from persecution, conflict and violence, extreme poverty, hunger, and from the consequences of the climate crisis and other natural disasters. They risk everything and make one of the most difficult decisions they will ever make – to leave their homes in search of a better life – a safer life.

An asylum seeker is a person who has not yet been legally recognized as a refugee. While anyone can apply for asylum, not everyone who flees to safety will meet the very defined criteria for protection or refugee status. Asylum generally applies to individuals who have a fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or their inclusion in a particular social group. To seek sanctuary, individuals must present themselves at a port of entry (an airport, or an official land crossing), or be in the country in which they are seeking protection.

The Vetting Process

While some may have a vision of an individual walking up to a counter, filling out some papers, and getting on a plane or boat to the U.S., the fact is, to be granted admission includes multi-organizational security clearance, multiple interviews, biometric scans, medical clearance, and cultural orientation – all of which takes approximately two years (in some cases longer) to complete. In short, there is no fast-tracking pathway for refugees to the US.

The Department of Homeland Security (USCIS) is the principal agency responsible for vetting refugee and asylum applicants in the US. Since the end of Title 42, the new asylum regulation means that people fleeing their home countries because of violence and instability may be ineligible for asylum unless they can meet the strict criteria. If denied protection, many vulnerable people will return to dangerous situations. If they enter the US irregularly, under the new policy, they will be restricted from returning for five years.

Once the asylum application is accepted, the individual will receive a notice of receipt. They will attend a biometrics services appointment. Biometric scans will include fingerprints, but could also include facial recognition, voice recognition, and iris scans, depending on their country of origin.

The security vetting process includes background checks which are mandatory for all individuals seeking to migrate to the US regardless of age, ethnicity, or nationality. The background investigation uses information from multiple agencies, databases, migration history, and system interfaces, to compile data relating to public safety concerns, national security risks, and other law enforcement concerns.

If the background investigation reveals that the Individual ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of any person on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or were convicted of a serious crime (including aggravated felonies), they will be disqualified.

The next step in the vetting process is the interview where they will demonstrate they have credible fear for their safety if removed. Depending on the path, the length of the asylum process can range from a few months to a few years. Asylum seekers are authorized to remain in the country while their application is pending.

Global Displacement

There are 103 million people displaced in the world. The number is overwhelming. There is unprecedented migration around the globe, including record numbers of fatalities of migrants en route, as attempts to control migration force individuals to take even more deadly routes to flee from danger.

People do not wake up one day and decide to leave their homes and choose displacement over peace and joy. Overwhelmingly, they have experienced unimaginable persecution and violence as a result of war and conflict. Information networks are flooded with images of bloodied children in shock and terror that no one should have to experience. They flee because they are running for their lives. It is a matter of safety and survival.

To resolve the reason why people flee, the global community must address the ways governments and agencies respond to those situations. Governments have a responsibility to protect people and to protect their human rights. Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right that needs to be respected, protected, and honored.

Photo Credit: Kosovo Refugees by United Nations Photos is licensed under CC by NC-ND 2.0