Everyone Has the Right to Seek Asylum

Hundreds of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees arrived in Indonesia on May 15, 2015. Thousands more are believed to still be stranded at sea reportedly with no country in the region willing to take them in. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees arrived in Indonesia on May 15, 2015. Thousands more are believed to still be stranded at sea reportedly with no country willing to take them in. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

We all have an obligation to help

The right to flee from danger and seek safe haven ought to be something we all innately understand. And yet, one need only turn on the television, browse the Internet or pick up a paper to find arguments against it. Under international law, states have an obligation to help people fleeing persecution by not sending them back in to danger. After the second World War, the global community, joined by the United States, began to create a system of agreements to ensure that governments would act together to protect human lives and dignity and take care of those most in need. It may not have worked as well as it should have or could have, but it did set standards that governments are expected to achieve.



These simple but profoundly important principles—that people have the right to escape persecution, and states have the obligation to protect those seeking refuge— have been taking quite a beating recently. Around the world, governments are building walls, erecting fences, deploying security forces to prevent people from coming into their countries. Elsewhere, governments have placed advertisements in countries impacted by conflict, warning people not to attempt to seek asylum in their country. There are credible reports of some governments paying traffickers to return the refugees they have just trafficked to their home countries.

A girl reacts after receiving tear gas at the Hungarian border with Serbia. ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images

A girl reacts after receiving tear gas at the Hungarian border with Serbia. ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images

It took the image of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach in Turkey to spark desperately needed action to help refugees fleeing to Europe. No similar flash point occurred in Southeast Asia, where ethnic Rohingya continue to flee increasing violence in Myanmar, leaving thousands of desperate people at risk of be returned or “lost” in refugee camps characterized by abysmal conditions.


Refugees and internally displaced in Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and the Central African Republic face attacks and are increasingly at risk of being trafficked or suffering the consequences of xenophobia and racial discrimination. Women refugees and internally displaced have the additional challenge of navigating an increased risk of rape and other gender-based violence.

Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Syrian refugees arrive at the Greek island of Kos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey to Greece in a dinghy on August 15, 2015. Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

There are currently an estimated 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. 19.5 million people have been forced to seek safety abroad, but due to the lack of leadership by more wealthy countries, less wealthy, mainly Middle Eastern, African and South Asian countries now host 86% of all refugees.

<> on July 20, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. The Australian government yesterday announced all future boat arrivals by asylum seekers will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and settlement. The announcement marks a major shift in policy direction by the centre-left Australian Labor Party government.

Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

Sadly, the United States also shares the blame for the lack of leadership in addressing this crisis. President Obama’s announcement that the United States would increase the number of asylum seekers from the Middle East is too little and too focused on just one region. The Obama administration and Congress must set the example and increase the overall number of refugees that are resettled in the United States, initially starting with a focus on populations at the greatest risk, increasing support and funding for countries hosting refugees, and streamlining the U.S. resettlement program so that is does not take so long.

Stranded boats at Southeast Asia - Rohingya Refugee

To make that happen, your voice is needed. Right now, the loudest voices in the public discussion are fanning fears that refugees are “Trojan Horses” for terrorism. Your voice is needed to change the narrative.

Start by joining our  “Eight Ways to Solve the World Refugee Crisis” campaign. You can also email or tweet @POTUS to tell President Obama that the U.S. can and should do more to help refugees. And at AIUSA’s upcoming regional conferences, Amnesty members will learn what steps they can do to lobby their local governing bodies to join Durham, NC, in endorsing refugee resettlement in their own community.

Human Rights Action Camp in Lampedusa

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18 thoughts on “Everyone Has the Right to Seek Asylum

  1. You are partially
    blaming us for a problem we did not create and are trying to shame us into allowing possible terrorists into our homeland. Isis continues to threaten us and we all know they are very serious. At least one of the Paris terrorists was smuggled in with false paperwork indicating he was a refugee. We already have terrorists here waiting to kill and the last thing we need are more.

    • right, we had nothing to do with Syria in the last year that would agitate the current situation or cause people to flee. Whatever blanket you've been living under seems warm.

    • If is absolutely our fault. Climate change, coupled with Bush's war, are the main causes of instability in the region. The theory that the Paris attacks were initiated by refugees has been debunked.

    • What you do to the least of these refugees you do unto Jesus? I will pray for you.

      Ted O'Donnell

  2. See the PBS Point of View program "Well-Founded Fear" (at http://www.pbs.org/pov/wellfoundedfear/) on the screening process for allowing refugees into the USA. Produced in 2000, prior to the attack on the World Trade Center and the George W. Bush Gulf War, it shows how stringent was our policy and procedures even before those and subsequent events.

  3. I was with you until I read that you want Obama to do something. He is the worst President in my lifetime and has no idea how to be a world leader. It would be better to petition members of Congress.

  4. I wish to ask a question. Why are our borders letting in thousands of illegal immigrants when their country can be supported with technology and educational assistance instead? I would move to where they are running from for the climate alone as a gardner. It is more important to assist those in dire straits and whose lives are actually in danger. Doesn’t it invite them on the statue of liberty? There need to be screening measures in place for each refugee to be registered that will eliminate benefits for those illegally taking our jobs as well. This isn’t rocket science here. The habits and locations of all Americans is now well documented and everyone knows this. Can we not allow refugees to enter above illegals? We have the technology. Obviously. Somebody refuses to acknowledge this. We all know who they are too. Let’s stop the charade and have some empathy for those families in terrible fear. Are we not declaring ourselves a sanctuary already? Nobody buys the bs anymore. Step up to the plate and make a difference. Set a good example for the great grandchildren to look up to. We dare you. They will not forgive and they will not forget. Expect them. They will be legion and they will carry your DNA and ours. It’s too late for CYA and time to be human. I’m a mother and a voter. We can be the greatest country on Earth filled with love and attempts at fairness or we can be remembered as selfish asses. Please fix this. Thanks for listening.

    • Hello Mary,
      So many people or living in fear based mode which paralyzes them. And here in the supposed land of the free, It seems like everybody but a few are only concerned about themselves and are very selfish, and I include our government all of them. They are greedy
      Warmongering selfish sad group of people. Who don't even take care of the very people that go overseas to fight their war cause what does war mean for them ? MONEY but only for them we have homeless starving veterans and families. Right here in the USA. And they DO NOT CARE. So what makes anybody think that they will let more people in here to take their money from them? If I had room oh and some money I would be more than happy to welcome these people seeking help into my home. This is suppose to be one world not one state!! Thanks for listening.

      • The greed and attitude towards money, which you wrote of, can further be declared to be idolatry. Many in this country blame the impoverished for having little.

  5. What will we do now as humans, look back and blame, analyze every situation to death or get on with it and help our fellowmen and women, talk is cheap and extending the hand of helping is what we should want to be known for.

  6. The following makes one case to not seek out Syrian refugees to bring to America. I don't want to be disingenuous; I subscribe to other reasons as well including, among many, the deeply held Islamic cultural-political antipathy to the separation of religion and state. But the following argument challenges the genuinely held compassionate and humanitarian motivations for bringing the refugees here.

    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $5,285 to care for one Syrian refugee for five years in most countries neighboring Syria.

    On average, one Middle Eastern refugee resettled in the United States costs an estimated $64,370 in the first five years. And costs continue to accrue in following years.(The expense to the taxpayers of Europe are broadly comparable; for example, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported that Germany spends $72,500 over the first five years to resettle a refugee.)

    [Source: The Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan, non-profit, research organization funded by private foundations, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Justice Department, and individual donors.] http://cis.org/High-Cost-of-Re...

    So, the cost to the American taxpayer to provide care for ONE Syrian refugee in America for five years would provide care for TWELVE refugees for five years in nations neighboring Syria.

    Helping twelve needy people is better than helping one needy person. For the compassionate heart the conclusion is self-evident: help the refugees in the countries near Syria, not here. Help twelve people, not one. Every Syrian refugee settled in America consigns eleven refugees to an abysmal deprivation of care in Syria and its neighboring countries.

    Some reply to these facts by asserting that it is often highly educated Syrians seeking entry to America, people who will readily be paying more in taxes than they consume in public services.

    But to whatever degree that may be true it is irrelevant to the figures cited. The $64,370 cost imposed (Literally imposed, ie under threat of physical coercion.) upon the American taxpayer is derived from including and averaging for all Syrian refugees, the highly educated, too. Also, the refugees have only 10.5 years of education on average, approximately equivalent to a High School student half way through their sophomore year.

    Help twelve people, not one. And don't resort to the threat of initiating coercion, taxation, to acquire your funding. Moral virtue lies in charitable giving, not extortion.


  7. ماذا يعمل اليمنيين الذي يوريدون الفرار من جحيم الحرب

  8. I've worked in refuge camps before and these people literally have nothing. They are the least of your brothers. I ask you can you at least pray for them. I do.

  9. Refugees deserve a life free of torture, abuses and corruption that robs them of human rights, opportunities, health and safety. Human rights are a necessity for a thriving community built on integrity and clear conscience by respecting all lives. It's not okay to strip a person of their rights and dignity.

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