UN Human Rights Chief 'Utterly Appalled' by Conditions at US Migrant Detention Centers video player.
FILE - Activists hold a protest against the treatment and conditions of children in immigration detention outside U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol station facilities in Clint, Texas.

GENEVA - The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has condemned the conditions of detention in which refugees and migrants are being held on the southern border of the United States.

Bachelet calls conditions in the camps appalling for both adult and child refugees and migrants, but especially for children. Her spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, told VOA that the high commissioner, as a former pediatrician, and as a mother, grandmother, and former head of state, feels personally stricken by the plight of the children.

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a meeting in Mexico City, Mexico, April 8, 2019.

"She is deeply shocked from all these perspectives at the way that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, separated from their families in many circumstances, under very poor sanitation conditions," Shamdasani said of Bachelet. "And these are conditions that have been documented by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General itself."  

Shamdasani said the U.N. rights office is concerned about the U.S. government's management policy, which seems to be based on detecting, detaining and deporting irregular migrants.

"This is particularly egregious when in the case of children who, in many cases, are separated from their families, being held in horrid detention conditions," Shamdasani said. "The many different U.N. human rights bodies have found that the detention of migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which is, of course, prohibited by international law."  

Children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families, Shamdasani said. adding that doing so may cause irreparable harm to the child's development and well-being.

Countering the reports

Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, maintained on Sunday that reports of unsanitary conditions and inadequate food and water are unsubstantiated. In a recent television interview, he said steps are being taken to improve the detention centers. 

U.S. Border Patrol agents keep watch on a large group of migrants who they say were attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, in El Paso, Texas, May 29, 2019.
FILE - U.S. Border Patrol agents keep watch on a large group of migrants who they say were attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, in El Paso, Texas, May 29, 2019.

Some members of the U.S. Congress are also calling for the improved treatment of migrants being held in U.S. custody.

Migrant arrests by the U.S. Border Patrol this year have hit the highest level since 2007. In May alone, agents detained nearly 133,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 11,500 unaccompanied children.

Shamdasani told VOA that migration is a very complex issue, adding that the U.S., Mexico and Central American countries have to work together to address the root causes compelling migrants to leave their homes.  

In addition, she said, such action needs to be done in a way that puts the human rights of the migrants front and center of any policies that are adopted.