Statement from Women’s Refugee Commission Executive Director Sarah Costa on the COVID-19 Pandemic

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As countries around the world navigate the unprecedented restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – communities on lockdown, the need for physical distancing, the closing of local businesses – the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) is acutely aware of what this could mean for displaced women, children, and youth globally.

Sixty percent of the more 70 million people currently displaced by conflict or crisis are women and girls. Displaced women and girls face unique challenges and risks – including increased risks of gender-based violence (GBV), limited access to critical health care services, and significant barriers to economic stability. The COVID-19 pandemic is sure to exacerbate these risks in alarming ways. Women and girls also are often the primary caregivers, with 70 percent of the global health and social service workforce made up of women, further increasing their risk of exposure.

Women’s Refugee Commission Calls for Inclusive and Gender-Sensitive Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

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NEW YORK, NY – Following the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), countries around the world are bracing for extremely high numbers of cases, a huge strain on health systems, and severe economic fallout. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 407,000 cases have been confirmed to date.

In an effort to address the COVID-19 crisis in humanitarian settings, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the United Nations system) is expected to launch a Global Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) tomorrow, which will analyze the direct public health and indirect immediate humanitarian consequences of the pandemic on the population in countries that are already facing other crises.

Women's Refugee Commission Strongly Condemns Trump Administration’s Illegal and Deplorable Actions to Shut Down the Southern Border to Unaccompanied Children and Asylum Seekers

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In response to steps announced by the Trump administration on March 20 affecting asylum at US borders, Michelle Brané, senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), issued the following statement:

“It is no surprise to anyone that the Trump administration is exploiting a public health emergency to do what it has wanted to do at the southern border for years. The actions announced today are not grounded in public health or safety considerations necessary to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19. In fact, these restrictions would endanger vulnerable individuals, including asylum seekers and children seeking protection.

“If implemented, the steps previewed in today’s announcement would unquestionably violate US legal obligations to refugee protection, which include the right to seek asylum and are not suspendible in a pandemic.

“Seeking asylum is, by definition, essential travel. People fleeing for their lives do not make these decisions lightly. Any attempt to imply otherwise is shameful and xenophobic. At a time when the public needs clarity, leadership, and collaboration, this administration instead continues to create chaos, confusion, and fear.”

While the specifics of the agreement remain unclear both from the US and Mexican side, WRC is deeply concerned about the conditions displaced people will face in Mexico. WRC urges both the US and Mexican governments to review current policies and practices and include asylum seekers and migrants in the protective health services and actions they take.

“We must ensure that the unjustified and sweeping policy changes made by the administration in the name of this pandemic be undone immediately. The administration cannot be allowed to exploit this moment to decimate the remains of our asylum system while falsely grounding such historic changes in public health justifications,” said Brané.

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Women’s Refugee Commission Condemns Proposed Trump Administration Policy to Block Asylum Seekers at U.S. Southern Border

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Trump administration announced plans to implement a new policy that would block asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico. Under the new policy, the U.S. would seek to immediately return to Mexico anyone encountered by U.S. Border Patrol Agents between ports of entry “without any detainment or…due process,” according to The New York Times.

Trump Administration To Replace Leadership At Refugee Resettlement Agency With ICE Official

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the Trump administration plans to replace ORR leadership – the U.S. agency largely responsible for the welfare of migrant and refugee children arriving alone (“unaccompanied”) or separated from their parents – with personnel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

New HHS OIG Report Reveals Systemic Lack of Preparedness, Action Before, During, After Trump Administration Family Separation Policy

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) yesterday issued a report titled "Communication and Management Challenges Impeded HHS’s Response to the Zero-Tolerance Policy," which looks at the last three years of the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the U.S. southern border.

In Advance of Emergency EU Meeting, Women's Refugee Commission Calls on EU to Ensure International Protections for Refugees at Greece-Turkey Border

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NEW YORK, NY – The High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell Fontelles announced plans Sunday to convene an “extraordinary meeting” of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in the coming week to discuss ongoing violence in Idlib, Syria, and the subsequent influx of Syrian refugees passing through Turkey on the way to Greece. The increase in refugees approaching the Greek border follows a recent decision by the Turkish government to ease border restrictions.

tags: Syria

With Trump "Elite Border Agents" Threat Looming, WRC Spotlights Preparedness—Urges Use of Key Resources

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NEW YORK, NY – Over the weekend, news broke that President Donald J. Trump was threatening imminent deployment of “elite tactical border agents” to sanctuary cities around the country with orders to arrest undocumented workers and migrants, which could include families seeking safety in the United States.

The move is seen by advocacy and human rights experts as a retaliatory measure against U.S. “sanctuary cities” or cities that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. These cities include Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, and Newark, NJ.

Nine Separated Parents Return to the U.S. to Reunite with Their Children and Present their Claims for Asylum

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LOS ANGELES, CA—Last night, nine parents who had been separated and deported without their children at the Mexico-U.S. border returned to the United States to reunite with their children and pursue their asylum claims as a result of advocacy efforts by Al Otro Lado (AOL), Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), De Anda Law, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Justice in Motion, Milbank LLP, and Women’s Refugee Commission.

First-Ever Global Refugee Forum Kicks Off in Geneva Next Week

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WRC Urges Support for Refugee Self-Determination, Focus on Gender Equality

NEW YORK, NY – Representatives from governments, international organizations, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, and refugees from around the world will gather in Geneva next week for the first-ever Global Refugee Forum. The two-day event is co-hosted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the government of Switzerland, with the governments of Turkey, Germany, Ethiopia, and Costa Rica serving as co-conveners.