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U.N. report: Detaining migrant children harms their mental health

Migrant families are processed at the central bus station before being taken to Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas, on June 29. File Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE

By Patrick Timmons, UPI

A United Nations health expert is calling on nations to stop detaining migrant children and separating them from their families because it violates their right to mental health.

"Undermining family unity in the context of human mobility is detrimental to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents on the move and generates effects that could last for years or even generations to come," Dr. Dainius Pūras wrote in a statement to accompany his interim report Friday to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

European countries detain migrant children seeking asylum but they do not separate them from their families, as the U.S. government did this summer at the U.S.-Mexico border. The United States is the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 9 of which prohibits separating children from their families.

Pūras, a Lithuanian medical doctor who has served as the U.N.'s special rapporteur on physical and mental health since 2014, identified violations of children's rights to "education, social protection, health, safety and security, access to justice, freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and non-discrimination," all of which "can have significant implications for their mental health and well-being.

Pūras told UPI he focused his report, titled "Right to Mental Health of People on the Move," on mental health and migration because "outdated practices are used too often." He wants to focus on "how to invest in mental health, and how to manage situations with large numbers of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers" because these can "offer huge opportunities for the global community and for each country."

Pūras's report comes at a tense moment for U.S. relations with the 193-member body. Nikki Haley, who is resigning as the U.S. ambassador to the body, has criticized the organization's experts for reports criticizing the United States rather than focusing on problems in other countries.

Pūras said he is "following closely the situation with U.S. migration policy and especially with separation and detention of children." Of more than 2,500 Central American children U.S. Border Patrol separated from their families this summer, 66 remain in government custody.

Meanwhile, a "tent city" in Tornillo,Texas, expects to expand to hold 3,800 unaccompanied migrant children by the end of the year.

President Donald Trump threatened Thursday to call up the military to shut down the southern border over a migrant caravan headed to the United States from Honduras via Mexico. He tweeted the caravan was filled with "MANY CRIMINALS" and suggested the caravan constituted an "assault on our country at our Southern border."

In fact, border crossings are at historic lows.

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