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U.S. Rejected Language Calling for End of Child Detention Ahead of UNGA Refugee Summit

HeadlineSep 20, 2016

The global refugee crisis took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly Monday, when 193 member states met for the first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants. They signed a nonbinding declaration outlining a more coordinated and humane response to the biggest migration upheaval since World War II. This comes as several countries rejected an earlier draft of the summit’s declaration that urged them to resettle 10 percent of the refugee population each year. The United States also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained. The agreement now says children should “seldom, if ever, be detained” and calls it a “measure of last resort.” This comes as teenagers held at the Berks County Residential Center—an immigrant family jail in Pennsylvania—are protesting their indefinite detention. Some have been held for more than a year while they seek asylum with their mothers, who are also detained. This is 16-year-old Estefany Adriana Méndez from El Salvador responding to the U.S.’s insistence on changing the language of the summit’s declaration.

Estefany Adriana Méndez: “They had said before they rejected it completely, but now they are saying it is an alternative measure. And I think it should not be that way, because the truth for all of us here, the children who are here, and the mothers, this is a horrible experience to be in detention, because more than a year of incarceration for a child is not just, without having committed any crime. The majority of us who are here, almost all of us—really, all of us—have family. We have family here to receive us. I have family in Maryland, in Los Angeles, in Florida. My father is in Texas waiting for us. I am 16 years old. I am from El Salvador, and I entered the 20th of August in 2015. I arrived at Dilley, Texas, the 26th of August, and I was in that place for two months. There, my birthday passed; I turned 16. Then, on the 28th of October, we arrived at Berks and have been here for 11 months in this place. In total, I have 393 days in detention, and soon it will be my birthday. Truthfully, I hope not to turn 17 here, again, while incarcerated.”

At a follow-up summit today, President Obama will call on 45 U.N. member nations to join with corporate donors to increase humanitarian aid for refugees.

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