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United States: Migrant Detention Camps

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that children have been separated from their parents in migrant detention camps on the United States border with Mexico, and whether the human rights of migrants have been violated in those camps.

My Lords, we share concerns over the recent reports on the conditions faced by children in US detention facilities. I welcome the fact that on 1 July the President passed a Bill providing emergency funding, including humanitarian support, which in part is to help to address those conditions. While countries are responsible for their own border policy, we all clearly have a responsibility to address migration issues in a fair, humane and effective way.

Is the Minister aware that, in May 2018, the United States began forcibly separating children and parents as they arrived at the United States border and that an estimated 12,000 unaccompanied children are in detention camps? The conditions in those camps have been compared with those in concentration camps. What views and protests have HM Government expressed to the United States? What was the wording of any such correspondence?

My Lords, this subject was not raised at the recent G20 summit, but we will continue to monitor the situation. However, immigration policy in the US is of course a matter for the US Government.

My Lords, what is truly shocking is that, when democratically elected representatives have raised their concerns, they are treated to abuse by their President. I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s condemnation of the words as “completely unacceptable”, but in this country we would call them racist. Will the Minister do the same?

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has raised this important issue, and that he referred to the views expressed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. As she said yesterday, the language used to refer to these women was completely unacceptable. I am also glad that the two contenders for the leadership of my party have spoken in similar terms. My right honourable friend will always stand up for the values of tolerance, decency and respect.

My Lords, President Trump refers to immigrants from Mexico as caravans of rapists and criminals. As we have just heard, he separates infants and young children from their parents, causing them inconsolable distress in crowded concentration camps, where they are deprived of adequate food, water and basic hygiene. Does the Minister agree that such overtly racist behaviour demeans the highest office of a once-great country?

My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to the appalling conditions of some of these refugees, who come from distant countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras. This matter has had much recent coverage in newspapers and other media. That is one reason why I am particularly glad to note, as I said in response to the Question, that the President has passed a Bill providing emergency funding, including humanitarian support, in part to help address these conditions.

Last week the six Texan bishops of the Episcopal Church on the border with Mexico wrote a letter stating:

“We call on our state and national leaders to reject fear-based policy-making that targets people who are simply seeking safety, and a chance to live and work in peace”.

Does the Minister agree with their view, and that we too need to ensure that our policy-making towards asylum seekers and refugees must be based never on fear but on humane, compassionate grounds?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes some good points. Our long-standing position on our own immigration system is that it should bring control, be fair to those who are here legally and contribute, and deal effectively with those who are here illegally.

My Lords, have my noble friend and his colleagues noted that whereas a reassuringly large and vocal number of the United States population are complaining about this, a worryingly large number of the population of the United States are acquiescently silent?

My Lords, what direct representations, if any, have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of the United States over the forcible separation of children from parents? That is the point of this Question, and it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what has been said by our Government to theirs on this important humanitarian issue.

My Lords, as I understand it, we have not been in discussion with the US Administration on this issue. I understand noble Lords’ feelings on this matter, but the fact is that US immigration policy is for the US Government.

My Lords, does the Minister condemn the use of the phrase “concentration camps”? The children in America, no matter how badly treated, are not being gassed, buried alive or smashed against walls. To use that phrase diminishes the memory of those who were treated like that and undermines the argument.

I could not agree more with the noble Baroness; she is quite right. The use of that sort of wording is quite improper in this instance.