Civil Society Statement regarding the ongoing detention of asylum seekers at Safi Barracks and the Initial Reception Centre


We are deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of hundreds of asylum-seekers – men, women and children – on medical grounds at the Initial Reception Centre and Safi Barracks. We believe that, in many cases, the detention is completely unlawful.

National law allows the health authorities to restrict an individual’s movement for medical screening for a period not exceeding four weeks, which may be exceptionally extended up to ten weeks for the purpose of finalising any tests that may be necessary. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that in order to be considered lawful, detention must always be justified on an individual basis, implemented in good faith, and used only for as long as strictly necessary.

At this point, there are asylum seekers who have been deprived of their liberty on the pretext of health checks – consisting essentially of a single test to screen for active TB – for periods ranging from a few days to 13 weeks from disembarkation. Several hundred of these, some of them children, have been detained for 8 weeks or more, which is way more than the time needed to conduct this test even for such a large number of people.
Possibly worse is the fact that no one has told them for how long they will be detained and that there are no accessible effective remedies to challenge their detention.

That they are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions, with almost no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity, hardly any contact with the outside world, limited access to open air, and a severe shortage of basic material necessities, makes their detention even harder to bear. In these conditions it is not surprising that tension is building in the centres, as people are worn down by the uncertainty and the strain
of their prolonged and arbitrary detention.

It would appear that in practice the main reason for their ongoing detention is the lack of space in the open centres. While we fully appreciate the strain that the large number of arrivals has placed on Malta’s reception system, resource constraints, no matter how severe, can and should never be used to justify deprivation of liberty.

In view of this we are calling on the government to ensure that all of the people currently being held on medical grounds are immediately released, unless their detention is clearly and objectively justified on health grounds in the individual case.

We are also calling on the government to allocate the resources necessary to strengthen our reception system and create sufficient reception spaces for asylum seekers to be hosted in accordance with Malta’s legal obligations. It is clear to us that the only way to do this is by creating new spaces, whether in existing facilities that are currently not in use, such as Hangar Open Centre, or in other facilities that may be available. There is absolutely no way that enough spaces can be created simply by pushing residents out of the open centres currently in use. More, in the current scenario, where access to decent and affordable housing is almost impossible, this measure is likely to create more problems than it solves.

In recent months Malta has shown leadership on migration issues, providing safe haven to migrants rescued from vessels in distress and brokering agreements between EU member states to share responsibility for disembarkations. The staff of state frontline migration and reception agencies have gone way beyond the call of duty, in spite of the limited resources at their disposal, to provide services and support to new arrivals.

While we appreciate all of this, as do the people whose lives were saved through Malta’s efforts, it is essential that concrete action is taken to strengthen our reception system in order to ensure that asylum seekers rescued are received with dignity and their rights are respected. On our part we affirm once more our willingness to support any and all initiatives aimed at improving reception conditions for asylum seekers in Malta.

September 6, 2019


This statement is endorsed by:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association Malta
  3. Agara Foundation
  4. Catholic Voices
  5. Christian Life Communities (CLC)
  6. Cross Culture International Foundation (CCIF)
  7. Dar tal-Providenza
  8. Department of Gender Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  9. Drachma LGBTI
  10. Drachma Parents’ Group
  11. Fondazzjoni Sebh
  12. Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants
  13. Fundazzjoni Paci u Gid
  14. Integra Foundation
  15. Isles of the Left
  16. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta
  17. Jesuits in Malta
  18. Kopin
  19. Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci
  20. Malta Emigrants Commission
  21. Moviment Graffiti
  22. Office of the Dean, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  23. Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malta
  24. Paolo Freire Institute
  25. Richmond Foundation
  26. Salesians of Don Bosco
  27. Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija
  28. Solidarity with Migrants Group
  29. SOS Malta
  30. Spark 15
  31. St Jeanne Antide Foundation
  32. The Critical Institute
  33. Women’s Rights Foundation
  34. Youth Alive Foundation

Refugees: are you asking what you can do to help?

After the tragic events in the past months have been unfolding in front of our very eyes, many have asked us what they, as individuals, can do to help.

Although refugee arrivals to Malta have not been as dramatic as in other parts of Europe, there is still a significant number of individuals and families that is in dire need of our help.

There are various ways in which you can contribute to supporting  and showing solidarity with those seeking asylum and refugees residing in Malta:

Donate Money

There are several NGOs working directly with refugees and asylum-seekers, providing various forms of support: material, social, legal, educational, psycho-social, medical. Some are also active in advocating with the authorities for better protection and human rights enjoyment.

The following refugee-supporting NGOs are active in assisting individuals and families, and rely on donations to continuing providing such support:

aditus foundation: aditus foundation is an independent, voluntary and non-profit NGO established with a view to monitor, act and report on access to fundamental human rights. It also offers legal aid services to refugees and asylum seekers.

African Media Association Malta: A new NGO (2014) composed of African journalists in Malta using their professional skills to help migrants to learn about living in Malta and effective integration.

Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants: FSM believes in providing for the welfare and development of communities, and in pioneering the growth of cultural diversity and cross cultural bridge building.

Integra Foundation: Integra’s vision is that of supporting inclusive, non-discriminating and non-disabling societies, where all individuals have the right to human dignity, freedom, respect and social justice.

JRS Malta: JRS Malta seeks to accompany, serve and defend the rights of asylum-seekers and forcibly displaced persons who arrive in Malta.

KOPIN: KOPIN is a voluntary, autonomous, non-profit and non-governmental organisation based in Malta working in the fields of international development cooperation, development education and refugee support.

Malta Emigrants’ Commission:  Emigrants’ Commission services cover all those affected by migration including immigrants and refugees. 

Migrants’ Network for Equality: This network has the aim of bringing together the various migrant communities present in Malta.

Migrant Women Association:  This new Association is committed towards empowering migrant women to enable their integration within the society of the host country in order to attain their full potential.

Organisation for Friendship in Diversity: OFD is a youth-led non-profit organisation working in the field of inclusion and diversity to promote the values of cultural understanding, respect, communication and friendship in order to challenge social stigmas in Malta today.

Peace Lab: Peace Labs runs an extensive adult education programme through various radio programmes and newspapers. Since 2002, the Peace Lab has hosted migrants in its grounds. 

People for Change Foundation: PFC conducts on-the-ground legal and policy research in Malta in the fields of migration, asylum and racism in the European Union. It also worsk in the areas of children’s rights and development and humanitarian aid.

SOS Malta: SOS Malta is a non-governmental organisation working in Malta and overseas, it assists all peoples through projects of a social and charitable nature.

Although not an NGO, Malta Microfinance Limited is a regulated non-profit financial institution that provides interest-free credit and microloans to people living in poverty in Malta, particularly migrants and women.


Donate in Kind

Many of the above organisations regularly request items needed by the community, such as:

  • clothes
  • books
  • children’s items (prams, buggies, nappies)
  • food, and
  • household goods.

Simply contact an NGO by sending an email or following them on social media in order to show support and be kept informed of any items that are needed. It is however not advisable to handover your broken or soiled items to refugees, so please be sure to liaise with the organisation before considering a donation.

In addition, the NGOs themselves could be in need of various items such as computers, printers and other office equipment, and furniture as these are indispensable but costly items to purchase.

Contact an NGO if you have any items that can be donated!

Volunteer

Anyone can volunteer.  Offer some of your time to provide support in language lessons, administration, accounting, legal services, fundraising, mentoring or simply your man hours. Contact an NGO to see how you can be of use.

Engage

There is much more you can easily do, if the above are not for you…

  • Get to know the real story! There is plenty of accessible information on the plight of refugees in Malta. As a first, check out the websites of the above NGOs, and subscribe to their newsletters, FaceBook and Twitter feeds;
  • Smile to a refugee! Too often refugees face angry or rude comments. Making them feel welcome will encourage them to integrate. And it’s just a nice thing to do!
  • Expect more from the Maltese Government! Human rights are to be enjoyed by everyone, not least by migrants and refugees. Spread this message amongst friends, family and colleagues.