Refugee kids crammed into abandoned Walmart and only allowed out two hours a day

Thousands of refugee children have been crammed into an abandoned Walmart and are only allowed outside for two hours a day.

The shelter – Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, features 1,500 boys who are living in bedrooms with no doors or ceilings, and five cot-style beds have been squeezed into bays only big enough for four.

Some were forcibly separated from their parents at the border under President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

The Boston Globe reports how some parents are being told their children are being taken away to be given a "bath" but then never see them again.

Inside Casa Padre, a mural featuring Trump covers the walls alongside the words: ‘Sometimes in losing a battle you have to find a new way to win the war’ in both English and Spanish.

They have six hours of classes, before being allowed fresh air for just two hours a day: one hour of structured time and one hour of free time.

Yellow lines on the ground mark the area where they boys must line up to get their food, and lettering tells them to speak quietly, ask before getting up and not share food.

They are allowed to make two phone calls a week but it can sometimes take days or weeks for them to reach their parents.

The shelter is the largest licenced childcare facility of its kind in the country and is 250,000 square feet: meaning the boys have under 40 square feet each.

Lights out is at 9pm and come on again at 6pm, and children have to eat and attend class in shifts because there is so many of them.

This week, a small group of journalists were allowed inside for the first time- and described the conditions as "horrifying, shocking and completely dehumanising."

Jacob Soboroff, a reporter for MSNBC, tweeted about his experience.

"Moments after we walked in, a shelter employee asked us to smile at hundreds of detained migrant kids in line for a meal because they feel like animals in a cage being looked at," he wrote.

He said the conditions the boys are living in are the equivalent of "incarceration".

"I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated," he said.

"No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody."

Trump claims that some of the children are part of notorious gang MS-13 – something staff at the shelter vehemently deny.

It is run by a non-profit organisation Southwest Key Programmes, and Soboroff noted how the staff genuinely seem to care about the children and the conditions they live in.

Nearly all of the boys are central American or Mexican and last year, 95 per cent of children detained at the border were from Honduras, El Salvador and Gueatemala.

They are usually there for an average of 49 days before being placed with a sponsor, a relative, reunited with parents or deported.

Juan Sanchez, the founder and president of the non-profit, refused to discuss the "zero-tolerance" policy.

He told reporters last week: "Our goal is to reunite these children with their families as soon as we can do that."

He also said 70 per cent of the children who arrived were unaccompanied, rather than with their parents.

Alexia Rodruguez, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, added: "We want to show you these kids are not kept in cages. We provide them excellent care."

But Casa Padre is just one such detention centre dotted across the south.

And officials have also announced plans to erect tent cities to hold hundreds more children in the Texas desert where temperatures regularly reach 40C (105F).

From April 19 to May 31, border officials separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults with whom they were travelling.

President Trump says the separations are "not his fault" and are happening as a result of his own government’s new ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to migrants.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended the measure.

He cited the bible, saying: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes."

He later added: "It’s not as if we just want to see if we can be mean to children. That’s not what this is about."

"God told Nehemiah to build a wall when he got back to Jerusalem," he continued. "That’s the first thing he told him to do. It wasn’t to keep people in. It was to keep bad people out."

Meanwhile, President Trump has refused to sign an immigration bill banning forced separations unless it has a clause allowing tax dollars to go towards building a wall.

He said: "I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that. We have to have the wall. Don’t have the wall, there’s no bill.”

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