GENEVA - The UN refugee agency indicates Washington is on shaky legal ground in barring Central American asylum seekers from entering the United States. The UNHCR reports people fleeing persecution and violence have a right to international protection.
The UN refugee agency does not question the sovereign right of any nation to control its borders. But, it does say international law governs the way countries must behave toward refugees and asylum seekers.
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US, wait to help fellow men get down to the Suchiate River from the Guatemala-Mexico international border bridge, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, Oct. 20, 2018.
The UNHCR says it recognizes the arrival of thousands of Honduran migrants in the caravan at the U.S. borders will be overwhelming. But, Spokesman Charlie Yaxlie says closing the border to the caravan is not a solution and will likely cause harm to those who have a legitimate fear for their lives.
"We wish to reiterate and underline that any individuals within that group that are fleeing persecution and violence, they need to be given access to territory and they need to be allowed to exercise their fundamental human rights to seek asylum and have access to refugee status determination procedures," he said.
Yaxlie says this principle is not only set out in international law but is also part of the national legislation of all countries concerned. He says it is important for governments to follow the law. He tells VOA the U.S. has not always stuck to the letter of refugee law.
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US, hold a demonstration demanding authorities to allow the rest of the group to cross, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico after crossing from Guatemala, Oct. 20, 2018.
"I think there has been well documented some of their issues around the separation of children in the U.S. We have repeatedly called for families not to be separated and for detention not to be used," he said.
Yaxlie says the UNHCR continues to work with the United States on ensuring their operations are in line with their obligations under international law.
In the meantime, the Geneva-based International Red Cross Federation reports Red Cross volunteers across Central America are accompanying the migrants along their journey. It says they are providing first aid and water and working to reunite families who have become separated along the way.