UN Human Rights Chief Decries 'Alarming' Conditions At Migrant Detention Facilities

Michelle Bachelet comments on reports of children sleeping on floors, poor sanitation and inadequate health care.

The United Nations’ leading human rights official condemned on Monday nightmarish conditions at migrant detention facilities in the U.S., which reportedly include disease, hunger, squalor and a lack of beds.

“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,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Last week, an alert from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office warned of “dangerous overcrowding” at facilities within the Rio Grande Valley sector. One of the facilities’ managers described the situation as “a ticking time bomb.”

According to a New York Times report published Saturday, children in a Clint, Texas, detention center have suffered outbreaks of chickenpox, shingles and scabies. The children are forced to live in cramped cells from which beds were removed to make more space. At one point, an influx in new arrivals meant migrants had to stay in rows of tents outside.

Bachelet cautioned that “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 Times reported that one child at a detention facility slept on a cot in sight of agents who kept her on suicide watch.

While Bachelet acknowledged a nation’s “sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals,” she implicitly rebuked the Trump administration’s handling of refugees seeking asylum, saying that procedures “should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants.”

Last month, the federal government removed and relocated most of the minors from the Clint facility after The Associated Press reported that children were tasked with caring for each other as they endured inadequate food and water, unsanitary conditions and an outbreak of the flu.

Bachelet, the former president of Chile, noted that in most cases, “migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger.”

“When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions,” she said.

On Sunday, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan denied the Times’ reporting in an ABC News interview, claiming he has “no evidence that children went hungry.”

“I know what our standards are, and I know they’re being followed,” he said.

McAleenan previously dismissed the AP report as well.

President Donald Trump on Sunday also rejected the Times article, accusing the paper of “writing phony and exaggerated accounts.”

In response, the publication defended its work, stating it is “confident in the accuracy of our reporting.” Working with The El Paso Times, the story on the detention facilities was based in part on interviews with Border Patrol agents and supervisors, as well as lawmakers and lawyers.