UN human rights commissioner ‘appalled’ by conditions in US detention centers

"I am deeply shocked."

Protesters hold up placards as they participate in a Close The Camps protest against migrant detention centers. (Credit: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protesters hold up placards as they participate in a Close The Camps protest against migrant detention centers. (Credit: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Conditions in U.S. detention centers where migrants and refugees are being held are “undignified” and “alarming,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday. 

Bachelet’s statement comes amid a flurry of news reports — recently confirmed by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General — detailing the poor and unsanitary conditions in detention centers near the southern border. 

According to the DHS, poor conditions include overcrowding, flu outbreaks, and lack of clean clothing. The report also detailed horrific incidents — such as overuse of solitary confinement, and reports of nooses in detainee cells — that signal violations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards and infringements on detainee rights.

In a statement released by Bachelet’s office Monday, the commissioner said, “As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and 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.”


Bachelet said she was appalled by the detrimental effects of such conditions, especially for children, adding 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.”

Indeed, as ThinkProgress previously reported, the treatment of migrant children in detention centers — specifically, the lack of beds and lights being on at all hours, making it impossible for children to sleep — are considered inhumane under international military law, which forbids the practice of sleep deprivation for prisoners of war.

But the Trump administration appears unfazed by the outrage over conditions in migrant detention centers. On Sunday, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan defended the quality of care given to migrant children, telling ABC’s This Week that “there’s adequate food and water” and dismissing reports detailing the horrific treatment of migrants in the facilities.

“I know what our standards are, and I know they’re being followed, because we have tremendous levels of oversight,” he added.

Last week, however President Donald Trump indicated that these poor conditions were in place intentionally, arguing on Twitter, “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!” 

His tweet only confirmed what Homeland Security officials admitted to earlier this month — that poor and unsanitary conditions are being inflicted to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution, to the United States.


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

“This should never happen anywhere.”