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2 weeks ago

News Source: nytimes.com
U.N. Rights Head ‘Shocked’ By Treatment Of Migrant Children At U.S. Border
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U.N. Rights Head 'Shocked' By Treatment Of Migrant Children At U.S. Border

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, condemned on Monday how the United States is treating migrant children arriving from Mexico, saying she was “shocked” at the conditions they faced in detention centers when they crossed the border.

“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” Ms. Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

Ms. Bachelet, a former president of Chile, has generally taken a more mollifying approach to dealing with governments than the outspoken Jordanian diplomat, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, whom she replaced 10 months ago.

But she pulled few punches on the issue of migrant children at the southern border.

Children should never be held in immigration detention and should never be separated from their families, Ms. Bachelet said in the statement.

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development — consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue,” Ms. Bachelet said.

Ms. Bachelet said that countries had a sovereign right to decide how to manage their borders, but that they still had to comply with their human rights obligations, and that the approach “should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she said.

Several United Nations human rights bodies had determined that the Trump administration’s separation of children from their families likely constituted the sort of cruel and inhumane treatment prohibited in international law, she noted.

United Nations human rights officials have spoken out against the policy for more than a year since the administration started its zero tolerance policy of separating children from their parents. But officials in Ms. Bachelet’s office said she was prompted to add her voice by the dire conditions exposed in a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog.

In five facilities visited by inspectors in June, they found children had few clothes, were given few means to clean themselves, were provided with inadequate and unhealthy food, and were held in severely overcrowded facilities. Adult migrants in one center had been held in standing room only conditions for a week.

“Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort” and applied for the shortest possible time, Ms. Bachelet said, urging American immigration officials to find noncustodial alternatives for migrants and refugees.