NGOs call for the immediate release of people held in detention without justification

Christoph Schwaiger

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

34 non-governmental organisations have called on the government to ensure that all of the asylum seekers currently being held on medical grounds are immediate released, unless their detention is clearly and objectively justified on medical grounds in the individual case. The group reminded that arbitrary detention is completely unlawful.

In a statement sent by the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) on behalf of 34 organisations, the civil society groups have expressed their concerns over the the detention of hundreds of asylum-seekers including men, women and children, on medical grounds at the Initial Reception Centre and Safi Barracks.

The NGOs explained that the law allows the health authorities to restrict an individual’s movement for medical screening in a period not exceeding four weeks. It is only in exceptional circumstances that this is extended up to ten weeks for the purpose of finalising any tests that may be necessary.

The civil society groups referred to decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that 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.

The NGOs observed that some asylum seekers have been deprived of their freedom on the pretext of health checks – consisting of a single test to screen for active tuberculosis. The period for which they have been detained ranges from a few weeks to thirteen weeks from disembarkation. Among those detained, are children who have been there for eight weeks or more. This the NGOs observed is way more than the time needed to conduct this test even for such a large number of people.

The NGOs criticised the conditions in which the asylum seekers have been placed, saying that probably no one has told them for how long they will be detained and that there are no accessible effective remedies to challenge their detentions.

“Not surprising that tension is building up”

The NGOs said that it is not surprising that tension is building up inside the centres.

On Friday it was reported that people held at Marsa intial reception centre protested. The police said that no one was hurt during the incident which happened around 11am.

‘The overcrowding and insanitary conditions with no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity and shortage of basic material necessities makes it harder for them to bear,’ the NGOs said in their joint statement.

Further they added that while they fully appreciate the strain on Malta’s reception centre due to the large number of arrivals, this could not be used to justify deprivation of liberty.

More resources are required

The NGOs called on the government to allocate more resources to strengthen Malta’s reception system and create sufficient reception space for asylum seekers to be hosted in accordance to the country’s legal obligations.

The NGOs added that the only way this could be done is by creating new spaces, saying that by pushing residents out is no solution especially in the view where access to decent and affordable housing is almost impossible.

The NGOs showed their appreciation to the work carried out by staff of state frontline migration and reception agencies, adding that they carried out their work in spite of limited resources at their disposal.

The NGOs added that they are willing to support any and all initiatives aimed at improving reception conditions for asylum seekers in Malta.

The statement was endorsed by aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Agara Foundation, Catholic Voices, Christian Life Communities (CLC), Cross Culture International Foundation (CCIF), Dar tal-Providenza, Department of Gender Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta, Drachma LGBTI, Drachma Parents’ Group, Fondazzjoni Sebh, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Fundazzjoni Paci u Gid, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta, Jesuits in Malta, Kopin, Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci, Malta Emigrants Commission, Moviment Graffiti, Office of the Dean, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malta, Paolo Freire Institute, Richmond Foundation, Salesians of Don Bosco, Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, Solidarity with Migrants Group, SOS Malta, Spark 15, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, The Critical Institute, Women’s Rights Foundation and Youth Alive Foundation.