Thousands of young men, women and children are attempting to resettle in the US as the brutality of their homes in places such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador continues to erupt. With the US, and its President Donald Trump, vowing to allow 18,000 asylum seekers in during the last fiscal month, the blunt reality that it could miss its target by a huge margin has been laid bare. So far, just 7,900 asylum seekers have been granted access to the US, a country which before Trump had a proud history of welcoming an average of 95,000 into the nation every year.
But as the horrors of the coronavirus continue to sweep the world, including the camps refugees and asylum seekers currently inhabit on the US’ border, the IRC has claimed the US has broken laws with its handling of the humanitarian crisis.
The IRC explained that the US’ current policy is to turn asylum seekers away and “send them back into danger”, and prior to the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols policy forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico to make their case.
Yet in a move that shocked many humanitarian groups, like the IRC, Mr Trump announced in March it would turn away all non-US citizens, something which has been branded legally unjust.
In a press release, the IRC said: “Blocking asylum seekers from entering the US to seek protection is in violation of domestic and international laws, even in these unprecedented times.
“Local communities in northern Mexico have made valiant efforts to welcome those turned away at the border, but services are overwhelmed and asylum seekers often find themselves at on-going risk of violence and persecution.
“Asylum seekers who do make it into the US are often held in detention centres with track records of neglect for sanitation, medical care and personal safety.
“While US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is likely under reporting COVID-19 infection rates in these detention centres, data suggests that over 20 percent of those tested are coming back positive for the virus.
“US policy decisions during the pandemic should be informed by public health best practices. Current asylum policies do not pass that test. Instead, they put asylum seekers in additional danger while doing nothing to make the US safer.”
Hans Van de Weerd, IRC Vice President for US Programmes, told Express.co.uk the rules broken are within the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is there to give protection for people seeking asylum and “is enshrined in law”.
He said that in domestic law there are prescribed steps for asylum to be granted to those seeking it, after which a decision can be made, although this process is not being correctly followed.
Mr Van de Weerd also said the way in which asylum seekers were being treated appeared to “criminalise” the activity of seeking asylum and that the next administration had to look at how best to protect those attempting to settle in the nation.
He said: “I think that’s an accurate way of describing what is happening and by saying that seeking asylum – and seeking protection – which is a legal right that people have and that countries are signed up to, but in the US it seems to be criminalised.
“Either your right is not being respected and you’re being deported without due process, or you’re being detained.
“And we know that there are people being detained that are not criminals and are basically, not only unjustly being placed into detention centres, but are also exposed to tremendous health risks as well.”
The IRC is calling on either President Trump or Democrat candidate Joe Biden to make vital changes to the US’ handling of the asylum seeker crisis by rebuilding refugee resettlement, protecting the rights of asylum seekers and leading the fight against COVID-19.
So far, Mr Biden has pledged to reinstate refugee levels back to its previous highs, while Mr Trump has yet to confirm his intentions should he secure a second term as US President.