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


GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says he understands that the Biden administration enacted new restrictions on asylum-seekers entering the United States, but cautioned that some aspects of the executive order may violate refugee protection required in international law.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, spoke to The Associated Press as his agency issued its annual “Global Trends” report for 2023 on Thursday. It found that the cumulative number of people who have been subjected to forced displacement rose to 120 million in 2023 — 6 million more than in the year before.

The refugee agency noted that the total count was roughly equivalent to the entire population of Japan.

The UNHCR report found that three-fourths of those people forcibly displaced -– including both refugees driven abroad and people displaced inside their own countries -– lived in poor or middle-income countries. Grandi insisted that was a sign of how migrant and refugee flows were not just an issue for the rich world.

He lamented how crises in Africa had been largely overlooked, in particular in Sudan, where some 10.8 million were displaced at the end of last year, after conflict erupted between forces loyal to rival generals in April last year.

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

He lamented how the world has largely overlooked the refugee crisis spawned by the conflict in Sudan.

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

The U.N. refugee agency chief criticized Biden administration plans to enact 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 Biden administration ambitions to resettle some 125,000 refugees in the United States amounted to “a very shining example of U.S. generosity.”

In the U.S. on Wednesday, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the administration over the recent directive on asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move by the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

UNHCR also highlighted difficulties faced by refugees and internally displaced people amid conflict in countries like Congo and Myanmar, and noted that Syria remains the world's largest displacement crisis with nearly 14 million people forcibly displaced both inside the country and abroad.