UN refugee agency spotlights plight of detained child asylum seekers in US

29 April 2004

The United Nations refugee agency today spotlighted the plight of tens of thousands of asylum seekers detained in the United States, including more than 5,000 children held every year.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has long advocated against detention of asylum seekers and refugees worldwide and has often played a vital role in monitoring and ameliorating conditions of those detained, particularly children in the United States and other industrialized countries with detention policies.

For the past year UNHCR has been has been working with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the US Department for Health and Human Services to provide even greater protection, assistance and support for unaccompanied children.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador actress Angelina Jolie visited detained asylum seekers at three facilities in Arizona last weekend and was particularly moved by the plight of unaccompanied children trying not only to survive the often harrowing situations that brought them to the United States but also to weave their way through an extremely complicated immigration system.

“Many of these children have survived tragedy, so being separated from their families can only add to their suffering,” Ms. Jolie said. “Access to legal representation and a guardian to help them through this difficult immigration process is absolutely essential to protect them and ensure that their best interests are met.”

She was pleased with the progress that ORR has made in improving the conditions for shelter of unaccompanied children in a very short time.

“I am excited that UNHCR is working with ORR on this initiative,” she said. “These children are true survivors. I am awed by their spirit and inspired by their resilience. I hope they can find ways to work together to provide them with the care and assistance they deserve.”


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