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Aspects of US restrictions on asylum-seekers may violate international protections, UNHCR head says

GENEVA — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says he understands the Biden administration has introduced new restrictions on asylum seekers entering the United States, but warned that some aspects of the executive order may conflict with refugee protections required in international law.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday as his agency released its annual “Global Trends” report for 2023. It showed that the cumulative number of people forcibly displaced rose to 120 million people in 2023 – 6 million more than the previous year.

The refugee agency noted that the total number was approximately equal to the entire population of Japan.

The UNHCR report found that three-quarters of people forcibly displaced – including both refugees displaced abroad and people displaced within their own countries – lived in poor or middle-income countries. Grandi emphasized that this was a sign that migrant and refugee flows were not just a problem for the rich world.

He regretted that the crises in Africa have been largely overlooked, particularly in Sudan, where some 10.8 million people were displaced at the end of last year after conflict broke out in April last year between forces loyal to rival generals.

Grandi said the world’s focus on the crises facing refugees and internally displaced people has largely focused on Gaza – where a devastating and deadly conflict erupted in October last year – and Ukraine, which has been saddled by the Russian invasion since February 2022 .

He lamented the fact that the world has largely overlooked the refugee crisis resulting from the conflict in Sudan.

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The United States, meanwhile, has faced the “most complex challenge” when it comes to refugees of any country in the developed world, Grandi said — referring to an influx across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The head of the UN refugee agency criticized the Biden administration plans to introduce new restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the border – seen by some as a political maneuver ahead of national elections in November – as a possible violation of international humanitarian law.

But he acknowledged that the Biden administration’s ambitions to resettle some 125,000 refugees in the United States provided “a very shining example of American generosity.”

UNHCR also highlighted the difficulties that refugees and internally displaced persons face during conflicts in countries such as Congo and Myanmar, noting that Syria remains the world’s largest displacement crisis, with nearly 14 million people forcibly displaced both inside and outside the country.

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