On Monday, Michelle Bachelet, UN human rights chief, stated that she is “appalled” at the conditions in which the United States is keeping detained migrants and refugees, especially the children.
“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 healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions”, said Bachelet.
She went on to state that according to several UN human rights bodies, “detaining migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited under international law.”
Bachelet went on to state that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child “even for short periods under good conditions” it “can have a serious impact on their health and development. Consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue,” she added.
She went on to urge authorities to find non-custodial alternatives for migrant and refugee children and adults.
“Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort”, she maintained.
She emphasized that if migrants or refugees are detained it should be for the “shortest period – with due process safeguards and under conditions that fully meet all relevant international human rights standards.”
“States do have the sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals”, she acknowledged. “but clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants”.
She went on to add that “in most of these cases, the migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger”.
“When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions”, she continued, saying “this should never happen anywhere.”
The High Commissioner said that he recognized the “complexity of the situation and the challenges faced by States “of origin, transit, and destination.” She then called on them to work together to address “the root causes which force migrants to leave their homes.”
Bachelet also took time to pay tribute to individuals and civil society organizations that have been supporting the basic rights of migrants, such as to water, food, health, and shelter.
“The provision of lifesaving assistance is a human rights imperative that must be respected at all times and for all people in need,” she said. “It is inconceivable that those who seek to provide such support would risk facing criminal charges.”