Don't block asylum-seekers over pandemic, says UN refugee chief

20.03.2020

The UN's refugee chief voiced alarm on Thursday over the impact that border closures implemented to halt the spread of COVID-19 could have on access to asylum for people fleeing war and persecution.

As the number of deaths from the new coronavirus passed 9,000 worldwide on Thursday, Filippo Grandi said he understood why many countries were adopting exceptional measures, including limiting air travel and cross-border movements.

But while everyday life has ground to a halt for many around the world, he stressed that "wars and persecution have not stopped."

"Today, across the globe, people are continuing to flee their homes in search of safety," he said, adding: "I am increasingly worried by measures adopted by some countries that could block altogether the right to seek asylum."

More than 70 million people globally been forced by conflict, persecution, violence and abuses to flee their homes, including more than 20 million people living as refugees, according to UN data.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees acknowledged that it was up to each country to manage their borders during the ongoing crisis "as they see fit". But, he insisted, "these measures should not result in closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger".

Grandi stressed that "solutions exist", including screening, testing and the use of quarantines, to allow authorities to manage the arrival of asylum-seekers and refugees safely while still respecting international refugee protection standards.

"In these challenging times, let us not forget those who are fleeing war and persecution," he said, insisting there was a need for "solidarity and compassion now more than ever before."    (AFP)

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