GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday that seeking asylum was a fundamental right and that people lodging applications should not be made to pay a fee, as proposed by the Trump administration.
U.S. President Donald Trump directed officials to toughen rules for asylum seekers on Monday, including by introducing a fee for their applications and barring those who entered the country illegally from working until their claims are approved.
UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley, asked about the U.S. move, told Reuters: “People shouldn’t be charged financially to exercise that right.”
He told reporters in Geneva he had no specific information about Trump’s move, but said: “Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. People should be allowed to exercise those rights when seeking to seek asylum.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) upholds compliance with a 1951 treaty, ratified by the United States, that says people fleeing conflict and persecution deserve international protection and safe refuge in another country.
The moves are the latest effort by the Trump administration to stem a growing number of Central American migrants crossing the U.S. southern border with Mexico, many of whom then seek asylum in the United States.
Many of the changes would be dramatic shifts in how asylum seekers are treated, but would also require time-intensive regulatory procedures before they go into effect, which will likely take months.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly blamed U.S. laws protecting asylum seekers for encouraging fraudulent or non-deserving claims.
But immigrant advocates say the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict asylum protections harms people legitimately seeking refuge from violence and persecution.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams