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UN expert: Separating migrant families has lasting impact

NEW YORK (19 October 2018) – A UN human rights expert has called on States to immediately halt the practice of detaining migrant children and separating them from their families, saying such policies have a long-lasting effect on their mental health.

“Laws and policies that institutionalize the separation of children on the move from their families or complicate family reunification contribute significantly to adverse mental health and must be eliminated without delay,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras, said in a statement.

“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.”

He said immigration detention as a form of deterrence was ineffective and should gradually be abolished, and the detention of children and migrants with psychosocial, cognitive or intellectual disabilities must be immediately prohibited.

Puras said discriminatory policies and practices that are fuelled by hostile attitudes and rhetoric must be addressed and abandoned. The xenophobic language and actions of some leaders, politicians and people in position of power breeds mistrust, disrespect and intolerance in the community, he told the UN General Assembly.

“The environment of fear and intolerance resulting from negative attitudes and discourse not only harms the mental health and well-being of people on the move, but also threatens the development of enabling environments and has detrimental effects on the mental health and well-being of the general public,” Puras said.

“My ultimate recommendation is that we all must stop these discriminatory and xenophobic trends and develop instead strong communities where good-quality human relations prevail.”


Dainius Pūras, a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health, took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2014. Dainius Pūras is the Director of Human rights monitoring institute in Vilnius Lithuania, a Professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University and teaches at the Faculties of Medicine and Philosophy of the same University.  He is also visiting Professor at the University of Essex (United Kingdom) and a Distinguished Visitor with the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University (USA).  As a medical doctor, he serves as a consultant at the Child Development Center, at Vilnius University Hospital.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Lucía de la Sierra, Human Rights Officer (+41 22 917 97 41 / ldelasierra@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.