UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has called on states to manage border restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in ways that also respect international human rights and refugee protection standards.
“The core principles of refugee protection are being put to test – but people who are forced to flee conflict and persecution should not be denied safety and protection on the pretext, or even as a side effect, of responding to the virus,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Securing public health and protecting refugees are not mutually exclusive. This is not a dilemma. We have to do both. Long-recognized refugee laws can be respected even as governments adopt stringent measures to protect public health, including at borders,” he said.
UNHCR estimates that 167 countries have so far fully or partially closed their borders to contain the spread of the virus. At least 57 states are making no exception for people seeking asylum.
“While approaches can be adjusted in practice to meet today’s realities, the right to seek asylum can and must be upheld even during this global public health crisis,” Grandi said.
“Otherwise the risk is that human rights norms, laws and policies, so critical for the protection of refugees in desperate need of safety, will be undermined in ways that could take many years to rebuild,” he said.