El Hiblu 1: More information requested on why minors are held at Corradino; No replies from Ministry

The Office of the Commissioner for Children has requested further information with regard to the situation of the youths arraigned over the El Hiblu 1 case, with the spokesperson for the Commission reminding that in the exceptional case that children are detained they should receive care appropriate to their age. When asked about the situation, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs only replied with ‘an age assessment is still ongoing to confirm the real age of the youths’.

READ: Two teens charged in El Hiblu 1 case held at Paola prison; ‘Special protection needs totally ignored’ – lawyers

Newsbook.com.mt is informed that the youths, which include a 15 and 16-year-old, are currently held at the high security division at the adult’s prison in Corradino Correctional Facility. A spokesperson for the Office has told Newsbook.com.mt that it was still waiting for replies. Meanwhile Newsbook.com.mt has also asked the Ministry about the minors however no replies were forthcoming until the time of writing to confirm the location where the youths are being held and whether this was in breach of the Magistrate’s orders. Lawyers Neil Falzon from Aditus Foundation and Cedric Mifsud who are appearing for the youths have said that despite the fact that the Magistrate gave clear instructions that the two children be given the full protection they are entitled to as minors, the youths were still held at the main prison in Paola.

READ: Commissioner for Children inquires about minors in El Hiblu 1 case

Three youths were charged with terrorist activities over the alleged seizure of the merchant vessel ship El Hiblu 1. The vessel was requested to carry out a search and rescue operation after a distress call was registered, it then made its way to Malta with some 100 asylum seekers on board. The captain has told the authorities that he had no control over the ship when rerouting to Malta.

A spokesperson for the Commission explained that as an office their mandate is to advocate for the guarantee of children’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Referring to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the spokesperson said that in its general comments on the treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, it is clearly stated that in exceptional circumstance where children are detained, the children should receive care appropriate to their age, including the ability to contact family, appropriate medical treatment and psychological counselling and access to education.

The Office of the Commissioner for Children stated that it is still waiting for replies as to why the minors are being held at the Corradino Section, and not at Centre of Residential Restorative Services (CoRRS) which caters for individuals up to the age of 21 and is located in Mtaħleb.

Age assessment still pending

The office of the Commissioner for Children has repeated its call for the age assessment to be carried out without any further delay. The spokesperson told Newsbook.com.mt that as far as the office was informed, the assessment is still pending. The spokesperson said that as an office they strongly recommend that the age assessment is carried out in a child-friendly manner respecting their dignity and rights of the child.

Further the spokesperson explained their age assessment should not only take into account the physical appearance of the individual but also their psychological maturity.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the age assessment is still ongoing. The assessment will confirm the youths real age, the spokeswoman said.

No replies from the Ministry

Newsbook.com.mt tried to contact the Ministry for Home Affairs throughout Saturday to ask about the situation.

The questions were the following: Do you confirm that the two minors 15 and 16 years arraigned over the El Hiblu 1 case are being held in Paola rather than at Mtaħleb? 2. Who took the decision on where to put the minors? 3. In which division in prison are they currently being held? And 4. Is the decision in breach of Magistrate’s orders?

However the spokeswoman only replied by saying that the age assessment is yet to be completed.