We remain very concerned that Malta continues to detain children with adults in Safi Detention Centre.
On 18 March 2022, our lawyers appeared before the Immigration Appeals Board on behalf of three minor Bangladeshi asylum-seekers. The three young men had arrived in Malta on 25 December 2021, after being rescued by the AFM at sea following their shipwreck. Shortly after, they had indicated being minors to the authorities. Despite that, they were kept in detention with adults for nearly 3 months.
During one of our routine call to detention in early February, adult Bangladeshis who were detained in the same block as minors informed us of the presence of the children. Our met the three young men on 6 February and decided to challenge their detention before the Immigration Appeals Board.
Unless it is very obvious, it is generally impossible to rely on the physical appearance alone to confirm the minority or not. As soon as we have a doubt we must challenge detention in order to avoid minors being detained unlawfully.Alexis Galand, Legal Officer
Immediately before the hearing, one of the young men was assessed by the Agency for the Welfare for Asylum Seekers (AWAS) to be a minor and released to the open centre. The two other appellants, despite having been seen by AWAS, were not yet issued with a final decision.
During the hearing, one of the appellants confirmed they were detained with adults since they arrived. Their detention had been ongoing for 84 days.
The Board rightly pointed out that the law provides that minors and individuals claiming to be minors must be detained as a measure of last resort and only if other less coercive measures cannot be applied. Such had obviously not been the case since the Immigration Police declared they were unaware they were claiming to be minors.
On the following Monday, another of the young men was confirmed to be a minor by AWAS. He was released to the open centre. The remaining minor filed an appeal against the decision of AWAS declaring him to be an adult. A subsequent decision by the Immigration Appeals Board ordered the Immigration Police to release him to the dedicated area for alleged minors run by AWAS, in the open centre. The Board considered the wellbeing of the appellant in light of the principle of the presumption of minority which provides that individuals claiming to be minors have to be considered as such until a final decision is reached on their age.
Human rights standards
In February 2022, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on her visit to Malta in October 2021 calling on the Maltese authorities “to prevent the detention of vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants and any arbitrary detention, to invest in alternatives to detention, and immediately end the detention of migrant children“.
Regarding living conditions in the Safi Detention Centre, the Commissioner strongly urged the authorities to take immediate action to ensure dignified conditions for all those currently held there.
This case is a stark reminder that the Maltese authorities still detain minors in deplorable living conditions despite international calls to end the practice. In January 2022, three children were released from illegal detention following a Court action by aditus.
Far from being overwhelmed by the migration crisis, Malta’s reception capacities are actually more than enough to accommodate all the asylum-seekers currently detained in its centres. The authorities should therefore invest in alternatives to detention rather than automatically detain asylum seekers upon arrival.