GENEVA: Teenagers huddled in a cage outside the UN in Geneva Monday, as protestors demanded that the world body address the “unconscionable” US policy of separating migrant families crossing its southern border.
Three teens wearing t-shirts with “#ClassroomsNotCages” scrawled across the front stood inside a small cage erected outside the gates of the United Nations’ European headquarters, as dozens of demonstrators urged the UN Human Rights Council take on President Donald Trump’s administration.
“The action today is about creating more pressure and more exposure of just how terrible and dehumanising this policy of the American government is towards children,” said Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, which helped organise the protest.
“What the Trump administration is doing is both lawless and immoral, and because it is so focused on children, it is unconscionable,” she told AFP.
The union was among 15 labour organisations and rights groups that filed a complaint a year ago with the UN’s top rights body over the Trump administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant parents and children who illegally cross the border.
According to the complainants, the issue has reached the final stages of the Human Rights Council’s review process, and its Situations Working Group is scheduled to consider it this week.
The rights council secretariat refused to comment, telling AFP only that its complaint procedure is “by definition confidential”.
The complainants are meanwhile hoping the council will issue an opinion “and make it clear that what has happened in America is a violation of the international protocols and international rights declarations,” Weingarten said.
Amid domestic and international outcry, Trump announced last June that his administration would halt the family separation policy.
But by then, thousands of children had been removed from family members and placed in temporary accommodation, leading to harrowing images and reports of administrative chaos in which many parents have been unable to find their children.
Observers say many of those children remain in US custody and maintain that the separations are continuing.
“We know kids are still being separated. We know kids are still being held,” Weingarten said.
Sandra Cordero, who heads the organisation “Families Belong Together” that has been working to reunite many of the separated families, agreed.
“There are still hundreds of cases of separation,” she told AFP.
And out of the 2,500 children who were separated in the months prior to Trump’s announcement last June, “there are still hundreds that have not been reunited or even contacted,” she said.
Activists also decry the “deplorable” conditions in many of the places where separated children are being held, and point to the fact that at least six children, between the ages of two and a half and 16, have died in US custody.
And Cordero especially slammed the government’s “purposefully cruel” failure to establish a system to keep track of the children and ensure family reunification would be possible.
Weingarten meanwhile said that Monday’s demonstration was important to keep the spotlight on the plight of the children – some just months old – taken from their families.
“We need to keep that level of outrage alive,” she said.
“That is the only way this is going to change.”