We Are All America Commemorates 70th Anniversary of the Adoption of the U.N. Refugee Convention

For immediate release:
July 28, 2021

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We Are All America Commemorates 70th Anniversary of the Adoption of the U.N. Refugee Convention

WASHINGTON - Today marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Refugee Convention. As We Are All America commemorates the day, refugee rights organizations across the country are calling on the Biden administration to take concrete steps to uphold the Convention’s articles and restore American leadership in protecting refugee and asylum rights. This is especially urgent after the Trump administration violated and undermined human rights protections recognized by international and U.S. domestic law.

“This Refugee Convention anniversary, we honor the lives and work of the refugees who have paved the way for our leadership. While much progress has been made in the last 70 years, major gaps remain that impede the lives of countless refugees and asylum seekers worldwide,” said Basma Alawee, Campaign Manager, We Are All America. “As we get closer to the Presidential Determination, we must push the Biden administration to set and meet a refugee admissions goal of 125,000 for the fiscal year of 2022, provide Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) solutions, and put an immediate end to Title 42.”

Among policy solutions proposed by refugee-serving organizations are:
End Title 42 and restart asylum;
Ensure that all asylum seekers who were excluded from entering the U.S. as part of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy can safely enter and have their case for asylum or another form of humanitarian protection be heard;
Rescind entry and transit bans that return refugees to danger while separating families;
Protect asylum seekers and refugees fleeing deadly gangs, domestic violence, and gender- and sexual-orientation based persecution;
Expand Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protections; and
Provide legal representation, case support and a fair process, not detention, barriers to asylum like “dedicated” or rocket dockets and expedited removal.

“The Refugee Convention stands as one of the grandest pledges to global compassion ever created. It provided the framework for the nations of the world to offer protection to those forced to flee their homes so that they could build lives in peace. The Convention also inspired individual countries to think about how to welcome the world’s displaced with compassion and in affirmation of the inherent dignity of all. Seventy years later, we remain ready to welcome,” said Church World Service (CWS) president and CEO Rick Santos. “Today is a day of celebration, but it must also be a day of action. So, in honor of the anniversary, we call on the Biden administration and Congress to honor our legacy of welcome. We can and must rebuild our resettlement program and fully restore the right to asylum,” he added.

“Today I am encouraged that it is the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. I also recognize the 1967 protocol, which removed restrictions of time, geographic location and declared that the Refugee Convention should be applied universally. Initially, the Refugee Convention only applied to refugees displaced by events within Europe before January 1, 1951,” said Sylvia Nyamuhungu, Michigan Refugee community organizer with CWS & Bethany Christian Services. “The 1967 protocol allowed for me to receive protection and resettlement as a refugee from Rwanda. With over 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and 26.4 million as refugees (UNHCR), the Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol give me hope and remind me that we have the capacity to create a world that works for all, to show what it means to be a human, and what it means to be a refugee. We have and are able to create laws and systems that serve and protect all humanity,” she added.

“In 1951, the United States participated in the Refugee Convention, which helped define the rights of refugees and the legal obligations that states have to them. Seventy years later, we must remind ourselves of the promises that were made that day and hold our country to those promises,” said Lisa Sherman Nikolaus, executive director, Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition. “We need to protect all refugees and asylum-seekers, including children, and work towards a future where we welcome people seeking refuge with the care we promised them.”

"This moment requires an immediate end to Title 42, the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, and entry/transit bans. Instead, let's boost protection, legal representation and case support,” said Maria Rodrigues, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “This is the best, perhaps only, way to honor the 70 years of bringing asylum seekers into safety and what we purport to celebrate as a legacy. Florida wouldn't be what it is without the diverse families who sought refuge here," she added

“Today, CHIRLA celebrates the 70th birthday of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which sets out an international plan to protect refugees who are fleeing persecution,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). “Refugees are immigrants, and we are committed to protecting their rights even as we see the rising threats to democracies around the world and in this country. Now more than ever, elected officials must recommit to protecting refugee resettlement, asylum, SIVs, and temporary protected status. As a nation of immigrants, we must ensure that those who seek our help get it in a timely and humane manner.”

An absolute majority of Americans (76%) believe that immigrants are a part of the country’s national identity and a majority (52%) believe that the country has a moral obligation to accept refugees facing persecution. Once resettled, refugees have been an economic, cultural, and social positive for America and will continue to be as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees are our neighbors, business owners, and community volunteers. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) showed that from 2005-2014, refugees contributed $63 billion more in taxes than the cost to support their settling here. Refugees are vital to the U.S. labor market by filling needed jobs, and, as a group, have a higher employment rate than the U.S.-born population. They also have higher entrepreneurship rates than the U.S.-born population and the foreign-born population.