Tuesday 16 July 2019

UN 'deeply shocked' at American treatment of migrants

Acting US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Photo: REUTERS/Al Drago
Acting US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Photo: REUTERS/Al Drago

Deanna Paul

The UN's human rights chief has said she is "appalled by the conditions" forced on migrants entering the United States.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, admonished the American government for failing to find non-custodial alternatives for those crossing the country's southern border.

"Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort," she said, adding that where detention is necessary it should be for the shortest period and under conditions that satisfy international human rights standards.

"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," Ms Bachelet said.

The high commissioner singled out the treatment of migrant children, saying she was "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".

In 2018, Ms Bachelet's predecessor as high commissioner criticised the Trump administration's child-separation policy.

"The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said at the time.

Yesterday, Ms Bachelet said immigration detention - which is never in the best interests of a child - can have a significant impact on a child's health and development.

Several human rights bodies have determined that detention of migrant children under current conditions at the US border violates international law as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

Ms Bachelet's statement comes days after the US Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) internal watchdog issued a report about detention centre conditions.

The report concluded the "urgent" situation required "immediate attention and action" and advised the US government to "take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults".

According to the Associated Press, last Tuesday's report stated that at least three facilities denied children access to showers and "some children under age seven had been held in jammed centres for more than two weeks. Some cells were so cramped that adults were forced to stand for days on end".

Notwithstanding the report, DHS officials have remained steadfast in their defence of Border Patrol station conditions. On Sunday, acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan called the situation "extraordinarily challenging" during a television interview.

In the same interview, Mr McAleenan revealed that DHS officials knew in 2016 about a private Facebook group where border agents posted racist and misogynistic comments.

He said he had been told about an allegation in 2016 "that was investigated, followed up on, and that discipline was meted out on an agent that made an offensive post on that website."

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service came under fire over the issue last Monday, when the non-profit news site 'ProPublica' reported that offensive content had been posted on a private Facebook group for current and former CPB officers.

Posts included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit comments referring to Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the news outlet said.

Mr McAleenan said the Facebook page was a private site run by a group of individuals in their off-duty hours and not under CBP control.

He said DHS did put out a social media policy encouraging border agents to maintain standards and a code of conduct on social media.

© Washington Post

Irish Independent

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