WASHINGTON – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appealed to the nations of the Americas to develop innovative asylum policies and export those advances to the rest of the world.
“The Plan of Action of Brazil offers us a strategic framework to move forward the protection and solutions agenda for some of the most vulnerable people in the region,” Antonio Guterres said during the 59th Lecture of the Americas, hosted by the Organization of American States at OAS headquarters in Washington.
“Let us seize the opportunity it has created. And let us keep the spirit of Cartagena alive and let this region expand the global example it is already setting,” he said, referring to the three-decade-old Cartagena Declaration on Refugees.
The U.N. Refugee Agency, known as UNHCR, reached agreement last year with 28 countries and three territories in Latin America and the Caribbean on the Plan of Action, which deals with new trends in movements of people.
The document addresses questions of how to respond to displacement caused by organized crime and to waves of migration that include both economic migrants and people who can be described as refugees.
Adoption of the plan marked the first time a regional organization deemed people displaced from their homelands by criminal activity as legitimate refugees, Guterres said.
That aspect is important because the phenomenon of crime-driven migration is not unique to the three Central American countries - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - that accounted for most of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who streamed across the U.S. southern border last year in a wave that Guterres described as “a mixed movement of migrants and refugees.”
The high commissioner said the 1984 Declaration of Cartagena on Refugees, adopted in response to an earlier Central America refugee crisis, was truly a model for regional and global protection of refugees.
“It not only extended the refugee definition, but provided a true compendium of international protection that covers the entire cycle of forced displacement,” Guterres said. “It put emphasis on preserving humanitarian space granting asylum, strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, and achieving durable solutions.”