US migrant detention centers in spotlight after human tragedies

Published 09.07.2019 00:16

A U.N. human rights chief said yesterday that she was "deeply shocked" by conditions under which migrants and refugees were held at U.S. detention centers, following reports of severe overcrowding and disease-ridden cells.

"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," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

The unprecedented surge of migrant families has left U.S. immigration detention centers severely overcrowded and has taxed the government's ability to provide medical care and other attention. Six children have died since September after being detained by border agents.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog report released last week warned of "dangerous overcrowding" in multiple detention facilities holding thousands of migrants seeking to remain in the U.S. Most of them are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. Responding to the DHS report, Bachelet said even detaining children "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," added Bachelet, the former president of Chile. President Donald Trump has previously expressed little sympathy for migrants in the facilities. On Twitter, he wrote: "If illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!"

The Trump administration has faced a barrage of criticism in recent days over conditions inside the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas: inadequate food, lack of medical care, no soap and older children trying to care of toddlers. Trump administration lawyers argued in court last week that the government shouldn't be required to provide migrant children in its custody with soap, toothbrushes, towels, showers or a full night's sleep inside facilities like the one in Clint.

Last month, the heart-wrenching image of a deceased Salvadoran father and his baby daughter who died while trying to cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico to the U.S. underscores once again the dangers faced by asylum seekers. The photo was reminiscent of past failures to address the issue of migration in countries across the globe. Mexican newspapers compared the photograph to the 2015 image of 3-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015 while on an asylum journey trying to cross the Aegean Sea into Europe.

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