UNHCR objects to renewed US expulsion flights of migrants

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed concerns over the resumption of the US practice of flying non-Mexican asylum seekers and migrants to southern Mexico after expelling them under an American health law regulation implemented last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Individuals or families aboard those flights who may have urgent protection needs risk being sent back to the very dangers they have fled in their countries of origin in Central America without any opportunity to have those needs assessed and addressed,” Xinhua news agency quoted the UNHCR as saying.

The order, which invokes the public health provision of US Code Title 42, was implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under former President Donald Trump in March 2020 and allows Washington to “immediately” return individual and family migrants seeking asylum at the southern border due to pandemic concerns.

The US government resumed the expedited removal of certain family units on August 2, and said that it will continue to process individuals in accordance with the CDC’s updated Title 42 provision.

The UNHCR noted that the expulsion flights come at a time when the flow of asylum seekers and migrants in the region “has increased considerably”, and “will further strain the overburdened humanitarian response capacity in southern Mexico and heighten the risk of Covid-19 transmission across national borders”.

It reiterated its call for the US to “swiftly lift Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect and to restore access to asylum for people whose lives depend on it”.