The United Nations has called on the U.S. Government to immediately halt its inhuman practice of separating asylum-seeking Central American immigrant parents from their children at the country's southern border.
The UN’s human rights office, OHCHR said it was "deeply concerned" over the "zero tolerance" policy introduced by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump in a bid to deter illegal immigration.
In a statement, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights noted since last October, “several hundred” youngsters – including a 12-month-old infant - have been separated from their families while their parents serve out prison sentences for entering the U.S. illegally, or wait in detention while their asylum claims are processed.
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani warned that there is “nothing normal about detaining children”, and that it “is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation”.
She said information received from U.S. civil society groups indicated that several hundred children had been separated from their parents at the border since October, including a one-year-old. "The U.S. should immediately halt this practice," she told reporters in Geneva. "The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life and is a serious violation of the rights of the child," she said. "The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles," she said.
Shamdasani stressed that children's rights were "generally held in high regard" in the United States, but she lamented that the country was the only one in the world that had not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite this, she insisted that Washington was bound by international human rights laws that its current practices were flouting.
"The child's best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns," she said.
"It is therefore of great concern that in the U.S., migration control appears to have been prioritised over the effective care and protection of migrant children," she added. The OHCHR also called on the Trump Administration to "adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families." The U.S. government says the policy aims to stem a surge of poor families mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras pouring into the United States.
Citing the daily violence in their home countries, thousands each week cross the U.S.-Mexico border and immediately turn themselves in to authorities asking for asylum. William Spindler of the UN refugee agency stressed Tuesday that "the right to claim asylum is a fundamental human right... and it is also part of the law in the United States."
A spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said that it was following the situation closely on the U.S.’s southern border. (With Agency inputs)