Is the US Legally Obligated to Accept Refugee Children?
Tens of thousands of Central American children, mainly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been fleeing from increasing violence in their own countries. Women are being raped and murdered in masses, and the rate of children getting raped and murdered has gone up steadily every month since January 2014.
It is a crisis in the most tragic sense of the term. All these children are fleeing from almost certain death, leaving their parents behind, reaching the border of the USA with survival as their only goal. Unfortunately, they are treated as criminals by the US Government, and in most cases are sent back to a place of almost certain death. It is one of the lowest points that the humanity has reached.
After seeing some of the most inhumane scenes during World War II, the world community came together to prevent the same from happening again. One important idea was the protection of innocent lives. Since a natural instinct of humans is to flee an area when you are being threatened with your life or with cruel and inhumane treatment, there was the need to protect and give rights to these fleeing people.
- The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted on July 28, 1951. The United States of America wasn’t a state party to this convention and to this day still hasn’t ratified it.
- Sixteen years later the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted on October 4, 1967. The United States of America ratified it on November 1, 1968.
The definition for the term “refugee” valid for the USA (since they didn’t ratify the Refugee Convention of 1951) is: ‘A person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”
- On December 10, 1984, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN. The United States of America ratified this Convention on October 21, 1994.
Article 3 is binding for every party of this Convention! “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.“
Otherwise called the principle of ‘Non-Refoulement’.
In order to not cause any confusion, it is important to explain that the international term of ‘Torture’ is defined by the US Government in the most selective and narrow way possible while the rest of the world goes by a much broader sense of the term. The death penalty and even sitting on death row is considered to be cruel and inhumane treatment of a human being. Rape, mass murder, systemic violence against women and children, all of it falls under ‘Torture’ according to Article 3 of the Convention.
In light of everything that has been explained so far, what is actually happening on the border between Mexico and the USA? It is a crisis, no doubt! It is however a crisis for the tens of thousands of children that had to flee their own country in order to survive. It is by no means a crisis for the USA!
The US doesn’t simply have a moral obligation to let these children cross into their country. It has an international obligation, to accept these children who are refugees, and it has the moral and international obligation to come up with the resources to take care of these children. This is not a question of what is convenient or easy, it is a question of abiding by the International Law, and proving that hopefully a little bit of humanity is left somewhere in the US Government.
The US’s habit of renaming internationally recognized terms, to mean whatever it wants it to mean, has not only caused torture and cruel deaths of thousands of people all around the world, but now it is affecting the lives of thousands of innocent children from Central America.
The feeling of powerlessness and anger becomes at times almost too much to bear when a country such as the US gets away with renaming refugees as ‘illegal immigrants’, in order to not have to grant the rights which aren’t separable from the status of refugees. The lack of respect for human life and for the International Law has reached a new level. When did it become acceptable in the so called Western world to allow cruel and inhumane treatment of children and to send them back into a death trap?
Realistically, trying to have a discussion on the USA’s international obligations towards these children almost seems to be pointless, when considering that the USA has chosen, for the last thirteen years, to grossly neglect its various other obligations stemming from the International Law. But if some awareness can be brought to the public of what these children’s status actually is, and how that should change the whole dialogue in the US, on how to handle the so called ‘border crisis’, then maybe there is a point in speaking and writing about it.
My Master thesis on European Asylum Law has given me an insight in the difference in mentality of Europe and the United States when it comes to refugees. While Europe was very reluctant to take up as many refugees as they have, and they have stayed reluctant to this day, some sense of humanity and respect for the International Law has led to a special Human Right Convention for Europe. In addition to a wide range of Human Rights Guarantees, the Convention reinforces Article 3 against ‘Torture’. Even the principle of ‘Non-Refoulement’ has found its way into the Dublin System, which attempts to regulate the waves of Refugees from the African Continent and Eastern Europe.
Despite Europe’s reluctance to take up refugees, there is a certain sense of respect for the International Law and a sense of responsibility for what goes on around the world. Something which seems to be lacking almost completely in the USA today. This isn’t to say that Europe should stop improving its system for asylum requests. Quite to the contrary!
If you bear with me for just a bit more, I wish to tell you about the extreme and dangerous hypocrisy of the USA concerning refugees. With half the world at war, which the US seems to be the center of, the US Government has called upon many countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey to take in millions of Syrian refugees. In fact the US insisted on it. If we compare the resources of these proportionately small countries with the resources of the USA, while also comparing the millions of refugees from Syria with the 100’000 children fleeing to America’s borders, it becomes evident that something isn’t as it should be.
The USA insists that the other countries rise up to the challenge and take in refugees of unimaginable numbers, while itself has failed to deliver on even the most basic level of humanity. It is hypocritical and plain irresponsible to completely disregard the International Law, while holding the rest of the world to a different standard. What is one left with, but despair?
No country asks for a humanitarian crisis, but the US is facing one. The Government has recognized it as such and yet the President has made it clear that he intends to detain, deter and deport these children. The President’s plan breaks the most fundamental principle of the International Laws: Non-Refoulement! It is the law without which our world could slip in to ruin, due to complete loss of humanity. It really is shocking that the President of the so-called ‘Free World’ has voiced that he will not be following this law.
A world in which a country size of the US, with the resources of the US, has the audacity to disobey the International Law and thereby devalue human life to a point where there isn’t actually any value left, is a world that won’t easily recover.