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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
US 'mistreats young immigrants'
Krome detention centre in Florida
Florida's Krome detention centre holds hundreds of immigrants
Human rights group Amnesty International has accused the United States of widespread mistreatment of children who flee their countries to seek asylum in America.

In a new report, Amnesty says children who arrive unaccompanied to the US are often denied access to attorneys, detained for prolonged periods and even jailed alongside young criminals.

"This is grossly unfair to children whose only 'offence' is seeking safe haven in the US," said William F Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.

The group also urged Congress to urgently pass pending legislation and allocate more funds to reform the country's immigration service.

'Clean break'

The report was based on the first nationwide survey of facilities used by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

People queue in front of INS office in San Francisco
The report says the INS 'failed dismally in its mission'

The INS was dismantled in March, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement has since been dealing with unaccompanied non-citizen children.

Amnesty said the survey results - together with interviews with 31 detained children and their attorneys - highlighted problems endemic to the immigration detention services.

It said 48% of the so-called secure facilities admitted housing young asylum seekers in the same cells as juvenile offenders, while 57% said they had used solitary confinement as punishment.

"It is appalling that many officials don't understand the difference between a juvenile offender and an unaccompanied child and that they deny these fragile young asylum seekers respect and rights," Mr Schulz said.

He also said "the INS failed dismally in its mission to care for the children under its watch", urging Congress to increase the ORR's budget to make a number of urgent changes.

Rachel Ward, author of the report, said "the US Government must back the ORR as it tries to make a clean break from the INS' dubious past".

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