For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Brenda Bowser Soder

World Refugee Day Must Spark Renewed Commitment to U.S. Protection of Refugees

WASHINGTON -  As refugees, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and individuals
around the world celebrate World Refugee Day, Human Rights First (HRF)
is urging the United States to mark this occasion by strengthening its
commitment to protect the rights of refugees who flee from persecution.
HRF noted that the June 20th festivities provide an opportunity for
U.S. leaders to reevaluate current refugee protection policies and take
steps to ensure that the United States is living up to its moral and
treaty commitments to refugees.

“It is ironic that, here in the United States -  a country that has
done so much to help refugees overseas – asylum seekers who have sought
refuge from political, religious and other persecution will spend World
Refugee Day detained in prison-like facilities.” said Eleanor Acer,
director of Human Rights First’s refugee protection program. “Though
the United States has certainly helped countless numbers of refugees,
U.S. detention policies have made our nation a far less ‘welcoming’
place for those seeking this country’s protection from persecution and

HRF recently issued a report documenting the ways in which U.S.
detention of asylum seekers is inconsistent with international human
rights standards. The report, "U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers: Seeking Protection, Finding Prison," notes
that since 2003, U.S. immigration authorities have spent more than $300
million to detain over 48,000 asylum seekers in jails and jail-like
facilities, some of which are located in remote areas, far from legal
representation. In its conclusion, the report outlines ways to improve
this process in ways that are more cost-effective, just, and humane.

“World Refugee Day presents an opportunity for the Obama
administration to commit to taking immediate steps to protect the
rights of refugees – including those who are here in this country,”
Acer noted, “The United States should set the global standard for how
refugees will be treated. When the United States falters in its
protection obligations here at home, refugees worldwide suffer.” 


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Human Rights First’s recommendations to the Obama Administration include:    

  • Stop detaining asylum seekers in prison-like facilities.
  • Provide all detained asylum seekers with the safeguard of an immigration court custody hearing.
  • Revise overly broad immigration definitions in order to
    target actual terrorism (rather than the victims of violence and
    repression) and implement a more effective process to adjudicate

Human Rights First also calls on the U.S. to continue to lead
efforts to ensure protection and assistance for Iraq’s refugees and
displaced, as well as resettling vulnerable Iraqi refugees – including
those who are at risk because of their ties to the United States.  The
U.S. must also take steps to improve support for refugees resettled
here in the United States.

In addition to monitoring and
advocating for the protection of the rights of refugees, Human Rights
First also provides legal counsel to refugees who seek asylum in the
U.S. – working in partnership with volunteer lawyers at U.S. law firms.
“As Human Rights First marks World Refugee Day, we will be celebrating
our volunteer attorneys’ hard work and dedication. They have helped so
many refugees and their families to rebuild their lives in safety and
security in this country. We look forward to working with them in the
years to come and with the Obama Administration as it works to
strengthen protections for refugees,” Acer concluded.


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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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