A group of UN independent human rights experts are urging the Biden administration to end the outsourcing of all detention centres, including those holding migrants and asylum seekers in the United States.
They have also welcomed the United States’ decision to stop using privately run federal prisons.
This is coming as UN refugee agency, UNHCR has already said it is “heartened” by President Joe Biden’s signing of Executive Orders on Tuesday which aim to provide safety and solutions for those seeking asylum, on the grounds that they need protection from violence and persecution at home.
UNHCR welcomes Biden’s plan to create a task force to locate and reunite separated families along the country’s southern border, saying that it reflects “authentic humanitarian values”.
“These steps confirm an American tradition of compassion for the vulnerable and are an important signal for all countries in formulating responses that are at once humane and secure”, said Matthew Reynolds, UNHCR’s representative to the United States and the Caribbean.
UNHCR also said that the move reaffirmed “US leadership amid global levels of forced displacement unseen since World War Two.”
“No one wants to be forced to leave their own homeland”, attested Mr. Reynolds. “But it is clear that desperate people fleeing violence in the North of Central America are not deterred by harsh enforcement policies because life back home is simply untenable”.
Biden has reportedly pledged to work with other governments and organizations to build regional asylum capacity, strengthen refugee resettlement and address the root causes of violence and instability that continue to force people fleeing from parts of Central America.
“The steps announced by the United States confirm the importance of efficient, humane asylum systems and of coordinated action by all governments to create conditions that will prevent families from having to flee their homes in the first place”, says Reynolds.
The new US president has taken prompt action to reverse his predecessor’s stance on immigration, according to news reports, ending the construction of a planned border wall between the US and Mexico, the travel ban on some majority-Muslim nations, and major cuts to refugee resettlement.
President Biden has also introduced a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented workers living in the US.
UNHCR, which operates in 130 countries and has 70 years of operational experience, said it was ready to “support the US Government in ensuring that people in need of international protection – including refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons – are able to find it promptly and without obstruction.”
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) applauded the President’s plans, saying that they will provide a framework to expand refugee resettlement, asylum and protection mechanisms in North and Central America.
As a founding member state of IOM, the agency reminded that the US has supported its mission and remains a steadfast partner in addressing humanitarian and migration opportunities and challenges around the globe.
“IOM is pleased to see that humane and dignified solutions for people on the move are a key priority for the Biden administration”, said Luca Dall’Oglio, IOM mission chief in Washington DC.
However, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Jelena Aparac, on Thursday said “ending the reliance on privately run prisons for federal prisoners is an encouraging step, but further action is needed.”
“Given the magnitude of mass incarceration in the US, this decision will benefit only the very small percentage of federal prisoners who are held in private prisons, and specifically excludes vulnerable people held in migrant and asylum centres who are at particular risk of serious human rights violations”, he added.
The US Department of Justice was ordered on 26 January, not to renew its contracts with 12 privately operated federal criminal detention facilities.
In 2019, there were about 116,000 prisoners held in privately operated facilities, representing about seven per cent of all state prisoners and 16 per cent of federal prisoners, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The experts urged the US to “eliminate all for-profit detention facilities”, saying that “detainees should not become units for profit”.
The Working Group has regularly expressed concern over the outsourcing of State-run enterprises, including prisons and detention facilities.
The issues of inadequate standards and grave human rights violations in migrant detention centres have been raised repeatedly with the US Government and its contractors, with experts denouncing involuntary sterilisations, the use of solitary confinement and violations of the right to healthcare.
Independent UN human rights experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council, and they are not UN staff, or paid for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation.