“We should do better,” Psychologists call for humane treatment for detained asylum seekers

Miguela Xuereb

The Malta Chamber of Psychologists has called on the government to provide for better conditions for asylum seekers who are currently in detention centres.

The statement issued on Wednesday comes after videos showing the living conditions inside a detention centre were circulated online and following the death of a 19-year-old asylum seeker who died while trying to escape from Ħal Far detention centre.

The Malta Chamber of Psychologists highlighted that it is important to understand the reason why people flee, noting that they have a legal right to enter into a country through irregular channels for the purpose of seeking asylum.

“It is understood that sometimes the person would risk losing their life if they tried to secure the required documents before fleeing. Others are denied the possibility of legal and safe travel. A significant portion of people held in detention do eventually provide the necessary proof that they either have been personally persecuted or have escaped an active conflict. They have a right to be here,” the Malta Chamber of Psychologists said.

The chamber noted that those detained have been through traumatic experiences and therefore require quality care after having endured inhumane treatment because of their religion, gender, political beliefs, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

“Being subjected to further undignified conditions in detention may be beyond what they can cope with,” the statement reads.

Referring to the experiences of the asylum seekers, the chamber noted that these have a major negative impact on their mental health.

The Malta Camber of Psychologists urged the government to ensure that the value given to human life and dignity is not lost when dealing with the challenge of migration.

“Detention centres must provide detainees with humane conditions, if they are to be used to contain people,” the Malta Chamber of Psychologists said.

It called on the authorities to put human rights at the centre of its responses to the migration issue and ensure that some degree of dignity and agency, essential to mental health is afforded to asylum seekers.

“The goal of protecting our borders is a just one, but it does not give us a right to ignore anyone’s human rights. We must be consistently reminded of our legal and moral obligations.”