Michelle Bachelet to US: Protect the Refugee Children

Michele Bachelet, Presidente of Chile speaks during Special Session of the Human Rights Council. 29 March 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré (file photo)
Michele Bachelet, Presidente of Chile speaks during Special Session of the Human Rights Council. 29 March 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré (file photo)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Monday she is appalled by the conditions in which migrants and refugees – children and adults – are being held in detention in the United States of America after crossing the southern border. She stressed that children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families.

The High Commissioner stated that several UN human rights bodies have found that the detention of migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited by international law.

“As a paediatrician, 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,” High Commissioner Bachelet said.

“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.” The High Commissioner noted that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child.

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Noting the disturbing report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on the conditions in migrant centres along the southern border, Bachelet urged the 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 said. If detention does take place, the High Commissioner emphasized, it should be for the shortest period of time, with due process safeguards and in conditions that fully meet all relevant international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Office’s presences in Mexico and Central America have documented numerous human rights violations and abuses against migrants and refugees in transit, including the excessive use of force, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, family separation, denial of access to services, refoulement, and arbitrary expulsions.

The High Commissioner recognized the complexity of the situation and the challenges faced by States of origin, transit and destination. She called on them to work together to address the root causes compelling migrants to leave their homes by implementing crosscutting policies that take into account the complex drivers of migration. These include insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination, poverty, the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.

Bachelet also paid tribute to individuals and civil society organizations that have been providing migrants with the most basic of rights, such as the rights to water, food, health, adequate shelter and other such assistance.

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Rakesh Raman