2012 JRS/USA Advocacy Issues
Click the tabs below to learn more about some of the issues Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is focused on this year. The area below the tabs will refresh with new information for each section.
- Migrants and Refugees
- Religious Access in Detention
- International Detention
- Colombian Refugees
- Urban Refugees
- Young Refugees
- Haiti and Dominican Republic
- Bhutanese in Nepal
- Burmese Refugees
Migrants, Asylum-Seekers, Refugees
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA believes the U.S. should live up to its tradition of fairness and generosity toward refugees and migrants, and uphold international standards for the treatment of those seeking refuge in this country.
Improvements in U.S. law and policy are needed to protect the rights of asylum seekers, forcibly displaced people and vulnerable migrants, and detained immigrants in the United States. Unfortunately, the current election year climate presents few opportunities for achieving improvements to asylum policy. The political context has become increasingly complicated by a rising tide of local laws and political posturing by national leaders, presenting challenges as JRS/USA seeks to advocate for laws and policy that preserve and protect the rights and well-being of asylum seekers and forced migrants.For more on Catholic Social Teaching as it relates to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, please click here to visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
Religious Access Rights for Detainees
Under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, immigrant detainees should have a right to practice their faith and access faith-appropriate religious services while in detention. However, the lack of clear guidance to facilities that have contracted with the Department of Homeland Security has undermined the ability of detained immigrants to fully enjoy this right, and has at times resulted in the outright denial of appropriate faith services for those detained.
To guarantee that immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in detention have access to the comfort of their faith, legislation or binding regulations along with robust implementation guidance and oversight is needed. Religious services provisions must be standardized, supported and enforced at all facilities that hold immigration detainees, whether the facilities are run by the federal government, local state government contractors, or private prison facilities.
While the Administration has drafted significant changes to immigration detention standards that would, if implemented fully, improve the rights of religious expression for detainees among other fundamental rights, these new standards have yet to be put into practice at the majority of the detention facilities. We continue to advocate for the full and binding implementation of all immigration detention standards.
Please click here to learn more about the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Detention Chaplaincy Program.
In many countries, including the United States, JRS is active in working to assist refugees and asylum seekers subject to detention. Over the past decade the use of detention to discourage, control and punish asylum seekers has increased worldwide, affecting refugees and asylum seekers.
JRS/USA believes the use of detention is in almost all instances inappropriate for asylum seekers and refugees. Administrative detention should be used as rarely as possible, and the least restrictive alternative to detention should be identified and employed.
Please click here for information on World Detention practices.
Protection and Durable Solutions for Colombian Refugees
Most Colombian refugees in Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela continue to live in precarious circumstances, often lacking access to basic services, and vulnerable to a host of legal and social challenges that deny them full integration into their countries of first refuge.
Meanwhile, the Colombian conflict continues to plague the internally displaced, making voluntary, safe, and dignified returns untenable for the vast majority of Colombia’s five million internally displaced people and 500,000 Colombian refugees. The United States and global support for the protection and assistance of Colombia’s refugees and internally displaced continue to be insufficient to fully fund UNHCR and NGO efforts in the region, and resettlement needs continue to far outpace opportunities for resettlement.
The protracted Colombian refugee situation requires greater global resources and attention in line with the goals of the Mexico Plan of Action. Colombian refugees often suffer secondary persecution in their countries of first asylum. UNHCR and local governments must reinvigorate efforts to integrate Colombian refugees in host communities while the global community strategically deploys resources for refugee families linked to local development to ease the burden on host communities.
The U.S. must act to increase the numbers of Colombian refugees resettled here and UNHCR should prepare to refer vulnerable cases that meet resettlement criteria, with a special focus on securing a durable solution for the refugee population in Panama.
Until recently, the response of the UNHCR, governments and most NGOs to refugee needs has been largely limited to refugees confined to camps or living in camp-like situations in rural settings. Jesuit Refugee Service, however, has recognized the need to assist urban refugees, who have been for too long excluded from the protection and assistance afforded to camp based populations.
Since the issuing of a new UNHCR policy on urban refugees in 2009, significant progress has been made in focusing new attention of urban refugee needs. Nonetheless, access of refugees to protection, documentation and legal assistance in urban areas is still poor, and great challenges remain to ensuring that these policies result in actual improvements in the lives of urban refugees. Because JRS is a leader in this area, we are in a unique position to suggest ways in which UNHCR and the NGO community can partner together to overcome these challenges.
Refugees living in urban areas should be afforded protection and assistance on an equal basis with refugees residing in camp settings. Such support should be provided through increased access to community services such as schools and medical facilities available to host country nationals and through special programs designed to meet refugee specific needs.
UNHCR, governments and the NGO community should work together to develop pilot protects to enact the principles expressed in the UNHCR urban refugee policy document so as to improve our response to needs of refugees in urban settings. Access to UNHCR in urban areas should be improved through partnership with NGOs such as JRS that can assist in the identification and referral to services of vulnerable urban refugees.
Learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service and Urban Refugees by clicking here.
Durable Solutions for Separated Refugee Minors
In many refugee situations, children can become separated from their parents with the result that they are cared for by an older sibling, more distant family members or unrelated adults or subsist in a homeless situation. Such children are especially vulnerable and need individual evaluation both for the purpose of immediate protection and to provide access to durable solutions. This evaluation must be done in a timely and professional manner and with appropriate involvement of JRS and other NGOs familiar with these children and their circumstances.
JRS/USA advocates to UNHCR and the United States government for greater attention and resources to be given to the protection to separated minors through emergency evaluation and intervention and the Best Interest Determination process. The challenge of achieving an adequate response to this population is increasing as the number of refugee children living in urban situation rises.
Haitian Migrants, Earthquake Displaced Haitians and Stateless Dominicans of Haitian Descent in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican government has put in place new policies that have resulted in the denial and/or revocation of the nationality of Dominican-born persons of Haitian ethnicity, while simultaneously launching a campaign of mass deportation of Haitian migrants, people displaced by the earthquake, and persons of Haitian descent.
Haitians refugees and migrants, earthquake-displaced Haitians and the Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent are living in particularly vulnerable situations within the Dominican Republic. They face arbitrary detention, xenophobia, denationalization (in the case of those who are Dominican-born) and a host of other protection-related concerns. Forcibly returning Haitians to Haiti is not a safe or humane practice and should not be implemented by any member of the international community.
Please click here to learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Bhutanese in Nepal
Advocacy by JRS/USA, JRS Europe and JRS/South Asia has been instrumental in securing the opportunity for resettlement for members of the Bhutanese refugee community, who have been living in camps in Nepal for more than 18 years without a solution to their plight.
Most of the Bhutanese refugees have now either been resettled in the U.S. and other countries or will do so over the next two or three years. A minority of at least 10,000 people, however, has not agreed to resettlement or has been found ineligible. JRS is working to ensure that another acceptable solution is found for these refugees, either in the form of local integration or voluntary repatriation. Because neither the government of Nepal nor that of Bhutan has as yet shown willingness to offer a permanent home to this population, international engagement by the United States and other governments will be needed to negotiate a satisfactory solution.
The U.S. and UNHCR must make efforts to ensure that the Bhutanese refugees have access to all three durable solutions. Negotiations relating to durable solutions must be carried out in a way that respects the needs and the concerns of the refugees involved. Assistance to those remaining in the camps must be maintained at adequate levels even as the camp population diminishes. Assistance in key areas, such as health care and education, should be enhanced.
Burmese Refugees in Thailand and India
Burmese refugee communities of various ethnicities in Thailand continue to exist in difficult conditions in camps at many points along the Thai border. While resettlement has offered new lives to thousands of individuals over the past several years, new influxes due to military actions in Burma have caused population numbers to remain high. Lack of UNHCR access and government policies have resulted in many newcomers being left unregistered, and subsequently denied shelter, food and access to services. Some have even been subject to refoulement by local Thai military commanders. Burmese Rohingya boat refugees also receive harsh treatment.
The recent indications of improvement in the human rights policies of the Burmese government potentially have both positive and negative implications for the protection of Burmese refugees. On the one hand, this trend if sustained may eventually make it possible for at least some portion of the refugee population to return home safely. On the other hand, these improvements could become an excuse for the countries now hosting the refugees to return them prematurely at their great peril.
Policy toward Burmese refugees must aim toward a positive resolution of the protracted situation on its borders In the meantime, host countries including Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and India should recognize the fundamental rights of refugees including freedom of movement and the right to practice livelihoods. The U.S. should use its diplomatic and programmatic resources to foster change in a way that respects the needs and aspirations of the refugee community.
For a number of years, JRS has been engaged in advocacy in support of the protection and resettlement of Burmese refugees, including Chin Burmese in Malaysia and New Delhi. A large population of Chin refugees in the remote area of Mizoram, India, however, has been inaccessible due to policies of the Indian government restricting access to this region.
Impoverished and marginalized Chin refugees in Mizoram require assistance from the Government of India, UNHCR and the international community, including the identification of durable solutions.