U.N. rights head 'shocked' by treatment of migrant children at U.S. border

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

U.N. rights head 'shocked' by treatment of migrant children at U.S. 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,” Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile, has generally taken a more mollifying approach to dealing with governments than Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the outspoken Jordanian diplomat 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, 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,” Bachelet said.

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.”

Several U.N. 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.

U.N. 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 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, Bachelet said, urging American immigration officials to find noncustodial alternatives for migrants and refugees.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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