United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet sharply criticized the conditions at migrant detention camps along the United States southern border on Monday, according to Reuters.
Bachelet said that the camps fail to meet basic human rights standards and urged the United States government to begin addressing many of the concerns raised by activists, journalists, and lawmakers. In recent months, scenes of migrant children and adults crammed in tight, unsanitary spaces and stories of cruel treatment by immigration agents have spurred calls for action throughout the US and beyond.
“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,” said Bachelet, who was the president of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and 2014 to 2018.
The US has long taken an aggressive approach to undocumented border crossings from Mexico, detaining and deporting hundreds of thousands of people annually, but it has historically focused its efforts on people accused of crimes.
In recent years, however, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy that focuses on criminal prosecution and deportation of undocumented people for crossing the border — including asylum seekers who have a legal right to ask for safety in the US.
The US has also deputized Mexico to block asylum seekers from entering the US in violation of international law.
The main thrust of the country’s border policy has been the detention of migrants and asylum seekers, often keeping them in unsafe detention facilities, according to the New York Times.
Conditions at detention camps vary, but in the worst cases, children and adults have been packed into freezing cold and squalid rooms without enough space to lie down, where they’re often denied access to soap, toothbrushes, water, and food, according to the Times.
There have been frequent reports of migrants being denied adequate medical care and becoming sick due to the unsanitary conditions in the facilities. Over the past year, at least seven children have died while being detained by the government, compared to zero over the previous 10 years.
The “zero tolerance” policy was widely condemned in 2018 when it was revealed that the government was separating thousands of children from their parents at the border — many of whom remain separated to this day. A similar level of condemnation is happening now, as more information about the camps emerges.
Bachelet said that migrants and asylum seekers should be met with respect and dignity at the US border, and provided with quality health care, food, water, and psychosocial services.
“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,” Bachelet said.
“When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions,” she added. “This should never happen anywhere.”