#ThereAreAlternatives – combating administrative detention

Malta’s systematic detention of asylum-seekers and migrants has for years been criticised by key human rights bodies. The European Court of Human Rights (here, here and here), the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Malta’s own Courts have all had harsh words to describe a policy that ignores international, European and national standards.

We visit detention on a regular basis, where our Pro Bono Unit provides legal information and services on how to challenge the detention legality. Together with assisting persons on their detention, we also guide them through other important procedures they must go through whilst detained: the asylum interview and appeals process, age assessment, vulnerability assessment and Dublin claims.

Malta’s detention regime must change.

These are 4 scenarios where Malta detains migrants.

At the moment, only lawyers are allowed to visit named and numbered clients. Coupled with the fact that the Immigration police confiscate mobile phones upon arrival, this means that most people do not have the opportunity to talk to lawyers about their detention or about their asylum claims.

  • Allow aditus foundation & other NGOs access to living quarters in detention centres. Worldwide experience tells us that when detained persons are not able to freely be visited by lawyers, social workers, counsellors, religious representatives, doctors and other visitors they become vulnerable to human rights violations.

We think that the Immigration Appeals Board, being the body responsible to review challenges against detention, does not fulfil the legal requirements for such bodies. This means that detained persons do not have the opportunity to approach a judicial body in order to question and challenge the legality of their detention.

  • Strengthen the legal remedies and procedures available to detained persons for them to effectively challenge the legality of their detention.
  • Appropriately document the regular detention review procedures of persons pending removal. Where the law requires detention to be reviewed, these reviews must be quick, effective, accessible and in line with basic procedural guarantees.

Upon arrival in Malta, all persons are automatically detained. This includes children and vulnerable adults. Following this initial detention period, children who’s age is questioned by the authorities remain in detention pending the age assessment procedure.

  • Do not detain children and vulnerable persons.

International law sets down a series of elements that must be in place in order to permit a person’s detention. Importantly, decisions to detain persons must be based on individual circumstances, duly documented and the person should be informed of the reasons in fact and in law for their detention.

Malta tends to detain asylum-seekers based on their nationality. Why? Because the authorities want to detain a person who they believe has low chances of being granted protection and who, they believe, is easily returnable. Under international and European law, this is not permitted.

  • Bring detention decision-making in line with international and European legal requirements.
  • Immediately provide all detained migrants with a document clearly indicating the reasons in fact and in law for their detention.
  • Ensure maximum detention durations are respected.
  • Actively and truly explore alternatives to detention instead of automatically detaining persons. There are alternatives.

Several human rights bodies, including the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Commissioner for Human Rights, have criticise the abysmal state of Malta’s detention centres. The approach has been described as “institutional neglect” and, in our opinion, constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment.

  • Provide living conditions that respect human dignity.

The carceral design of detention centres such as Hermes Block and the Warehouses at Safi Detention Centre remained totally inappropriate: large rooms crammed with beds, no privacy, and communication with staff via locked doors. Migrants were generally locked in their accommodation units with little to no access to daily outdoor exercise and no purposeful activities.

Other deficiencies included a lack of maintenance of the buildings (especially the sanitary facilities), insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials and an inability to obtain a change of clothes.

Moreover, there was also a systematic lack of information provided to detained persons about their situation, compounded by minimal contact with the outside world or even staff.

CPT Report on Malta, 2021

What are our priorities with Malta’s administrative detention?

Politico feature, by Joanna Demarco and Julian Delia.

Our work combating Malta’s detention regime is supported by: