Asylum Backlogs Can Be Deadly

HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield's April 25 letter to the editor of the Washington Post, published April 25, 2015.

The April 22 front-page article “European refugee system overwhelmed” provided a nuanced account of the challenges facing Europe in hosting the largest number of asylum-seekers since World War II.

While I am heartened to see European countries trying to provide asylum, as the head of a refugee agency that rescued millions of refugees from Europe during the 20th century, I am devastated to see the loss of life among migrants now fleeing to Europe.

One point in the article needs emphasis: Having an asylum system is not enough if that asylum system is hopelessly backlogged, as it is in Europe and the United States. Backlogs can be deadly.

Asylum-seekers who have a well-founded fear of persecution back home should be rescued in the country of first asylum, at sea or in the desert, and be given asylum quickly. Those who are economic migrants should also be rescued and be adjudicated as fairly and quickly as possible. If not refugees, they should be returned to their countries so other economic migrants may decide not to put their lives at risk.

Neither the United States nor Europe has the capacity to tackle the asylum backlogs. Just as we have military reserves, we should have a reserve corps of trained asylum officers who can adjudicate cases quickly.

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