An assault on asylum? Experts raise alarm

Experts say the right to asylum is ‘disappearing’ as wealthy nations enact restrictions aimed at keeping people out

The following is an excerpt from an article published by Al Jazeera featuring WRMC’s Allan Rock on the lack of political will to revive the broken global asylum system.

Last May, the United Nations unveiled a “sobering” milestone that it said “should never have been set”: For the first time in recorded history, more than 100 million people around the globe had been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, violence and persecution.

Today, as the world grapples with the effects of this displacement, experts have cautioned that an equally alarming trend is also picking up pace: the “erosion” of the right to seek asylum in other countries.

“The doors are closing, and the language is coarsening. Hearts are hardening, walls are being built,” Allan Rock, a member of the World Refugee & Migration Council and former Canadian ambassador to the UN, told Al Jazeera.

“Everywhere you look, there is a weakening and often a disappearance of the right to claim asylum.”

Criminalising asylum

Dehumanising rhetoric around migration also contributes to that “ugly cycle”, the experts said, as governments that enact restrictions on the right to asylum also employ language that seeks to obfuscate their own obligations under international law.

In some cases, this has been overt, such as when former US President Donald Trump and other Republican legislators use the term “illegals” to refer to people crossing into the country to seek protection, or warn of an “invasion”.

It can also be more subtle, such as the phrase “legal migration”, which implies that seeking asylum by crossing a border irregularly is “illegal”.

“Those who appear at our border asking for asylum … are not jumping a queue, they’re not gaming the system, and they’re not asking for charity,” said Rock, with the World Refugee & Migration Council. “They’re exerting a right – a right that’s recognised morally and legally, and has been for millennia.”

The 1951 Refugee Convention also addresses the falsehood that crossing a border to seek asylum is “illegal”, stating that refugees should not be punished for “illegal entry” because “the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules”.

‘Life and death’

Rock also said the world is at a critical juncture.

“What is more basic as an element of our common humanity than our obligation to respect the right of other people to live? We shouldn’t lose sight of that fundamental principle in all of this,” he said.

“Now that principle has been eroded, it’s been ignored, it’s been undervalued – and it has to be revived. And people have to understand that for many, many of those who are seeking asylum, it is a matter of life and death.”