GENEVA (XINHUA) - United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Monday (July 8) she was appalled by the conditions in which migrants and refugees, children and adults, are held in detention in the United States (US) after crossing the southern border.
She referred to a "disturbing report" by the US Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General on the conditions in migrant centres along the southern border and urged the authorities to find non-custodial alternatives for migrant and refugee children - and adults.
"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," she said.
She stressed in a statement here that children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families.
The UN right chief 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.
"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," Bachelet said.
The High Commissioner said immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child.
"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 emphasised it should be for the shortest period, with due process safeguards and in 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. 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 added.
In most cases, Bachelet noted, the migrants and refugees had embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger.
The UN Human Rights Office's presences in Mexico and Central America also said they 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.