In BA Contemporary Media Cultures, we look at the changing globe in terms of the movement of people, the changing face of global culture and the real-world issues of travel and migrancy in today’s economic climate. Susan Flynn leads the Global Media Cultures unit on BA CMC. Here, she looks at some of the issues around the current U.S. travel ban.
Q: If a person arrives on U.S. soil and claims asylum, does the U.S. have to deal with their claim under international law?
Yes, the U.S. has an international legal obligation to do so because of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and it has an obligation to do so under its own U.S. domestic law. Domestic laws state that anyone who reaches the U.S. will have to have their asylum claims examined. The travel ban seems to be intended to circumvent this duty. The duty not to return a person to a state where they may face torture or other serious harms is absolute under the UN’s Convention Against Torture. The U.S. has signed and ratified this convention.
Q: Under international law, can the U.S. ban asylum seekers from certain countries?
Under international law, the U.S. cannot ban asylum seekers from certain countries. The U.S. has signed and ratified a number of international treaties that prohibit religious and race discrimination in the operation of legal systems, and this extends to operating a migration system in line with international non-discrimination protections.
That said, a person cannot claim asylum unless they are on U.S. soil. The executive order will generally suspend issuing visas for 90 days for Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somalian, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni citizens under the U.S. via-waiver programme. An exception for “religious minority”—such as Christians from these countries—appears to be nothing more than a poorly attempted disguise to try to ban Muslims from these countries from reaching U.S. soil.
While any asylum seeker has the right to leave their country, often the right to claim asylum in another country is circumvented by states through imposing harsh visa requirements that prevent potential refugees arriving in a country and lodging an asylum claim.
Q: What means does the international community have to punish the U.S. if it breaches international refugee or asylum law?
International human rights law relies heavily on attempting to embarrass or pressure a state to comply with their international legal obligations. This can have some effect on smaller states.
However, a country as powerful as the U.S. can easily set aside international legal obligations to which they had previously adhered. The onus is then on other nations to pressure the U.S. into behaving more humanely towards refugees, and to show more hospitality themselves.
What do you think about the US travel ban? How do you see this playing out over the next few months?