A group of men who have spent months at the Safi barracks are begging to be allowed to return home, as they remain cramped in the detention centre under appalling conditions and with no update on their asylum claims.

In a video sent to Times of Malta, several migrants, some who have been living in the centre for close to a year, shared their experience of living in overcrowded dormitories where they say a lack of hygiene, medical attention and nutritious food has led to deteriorating mental and physical health as well as suicide attempts.

The men claim they are able to film discreetly and sparingly, as the majority have had their phones confiscated. A friend of the migrants, who no longer lives at the barracks, was able to provide Times of Malta with snippets of footage recorded on August 24.

The video features several young men huddled on a set of bunk beds, where poor living conditions, such as dirty floors, worn out and torn clothing and a lack of clean and working bathrooms, are also documented.

The speaker filming the footage describes the men in the video as Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian and Arab, all now detained for between three and 11 months.

“These youths are suffering a great deal,” the speaker behind the camera says.

“We have applied for asylum, they still haven’t given us a reply, they didn’t give us a solution, they haven’t given us freedom, they haven’t sent us back to our countries.”

The speaker describes the living situation in Safi as “catastrophic”, stripping people of basic dignity as well as their human rights.

“I’m sorry to show you this,” the speaker says holding a worn-down shoe.

“This is what the men here have to wear. As you can see after six months of use it is worn out. You can see where it tore time and time again and he fixed it and continued to wear it.

“The men here always wear the same t-shirt, otherwise, when they have to wash and dry it they remain shirtless because it is the only one that they have been given.”

The speaker also claims there is widespread disease and allergies at the barracks due to the lack of adequate facilities and working bathrooms, further exacerbated by the overcrowding problem.

‘I am going crazy’

A Moroccan man who claims to have spent a month at sea says his family has been torn apart and he is in agony over how he might be able to leave detention.

“I left my country a year ago, I spent months in Libya where I was imprisoned and tortured. Then I came here by sea, and they kept us at sea for a month, and then we spent another two months here. They gave us the same clothes that we have on us right now,” the man said.  “Proper nutrition is non-existent, there is no food, there is no good source of water, there are no toilets, and there is nothing related to hygiene or health.

You yell for someone, a doctor or guard, and no one answers

“I left my family, and there were no forms of communication made available for us, we’re not allowed, they took away our telephones, we have no idea what is happening to us. We don’t know what these people want from us.

“I escaped my country to improve my situation but in truth I found my head in a whirlpool with no solution. No one will talk to us or give us an answer. I am going crazy, and my family has been separated. Please find us a solution.”

‘I want my parents’

Jamal, another Moroccan man who says he has been in detention for seven months, has been plagued with thoughts of suicide and claims his attempts to see a doctor to treat a visible skin condition, which has left his body covered in pock marks, are made in vain.

“My situation was not good, not in Libya and not in Morocco, and I came here and this illness got worse,” Jamal says, lifting his shirt to reveal marks dotting the skin all over his body.

“I have asked to see a doctor, and every day they say tomorrow, I’ve been here for seven months now and they haven’t taken me to see a doctor.

“I have offered to voluntarily return to my country, but they wouldn’t let me. I am losing my mind. I have thought of suicide multiple times, but the others stopped me.”

“I want them to take me back to my parents, this is torture. My mental health is suffering. I don’t want anything here, I just want to go back to my country, and I want my parents.”

An Egyptian man, who travelled to Libya to find work and got caught in a human trafficking ring when coronavirus restrictions prevented him from leaving, said being caught in Libya was a do-or-die situation.

“We came from Egypt to find work but when the coronavirus came down we couldn’t go anywhere. In Libya they force you to work, or you end up on the streets and get killed,” he said.

“We stayed with a Libyan man for four months, working without any pay, at the end of the day he would just give us some food.

“Then they put us in a boat and told us to head to Italy or they would shoot and kill us. We had no money and no solutions, there was nothing for us to do.

“When the Maltese authorities found us, they said we would be held for a 14-day quarantine and then we would be able to apply for asylum and go to Italy or France. They’ve brought us to Safi and we have no idea what’s going on.

“We are dying here. There is no food. I have young children and an old mother and father and I don’t know what I can do for them. I cannot speak to them, I have no phone. You can see here all the windows are locked. You yell for someone, a doctor or guard, and no one answers.

“So what do we do now?” he pleads.

Concerns of subnormal living conditions and human rights abuses are not a first for the Safi detention centre.

Last December, the “prison-like” living conditions sparked a protest that turned into a violent riot, with detainees screaming for freedom and demanding to be informed on the status of their release.

A group of 22 migrants, including two aged just 15 and 17, were jailed for nine months and fined €800 for inciting the riot.

People living in Safi at the time who spoke to Times of Malta described the situation as a “nightmare”.

‘Work going on to relocate migrants’

In answer to questions, the home affairs ministry said Malta has been facing disproportionate pressure from irregular migration for a number of years.

“The increase in the number of persons arriving irregularly in Malta has resulted in greater pressure on the country’s migrant reception facilities, the services available and the employees working inside these centres. Such difficulties are the main reason why the government’s top priority is the prevention of migrant arrivals,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, it said, work was going on in order to relocate and return as many irregular migrants as possible. The result of this strategy would reduce the pressure on the country’s reception facilities.

Migrants are provided shelter in closed centres for a temporary period, before they are given accommodation in open facilities. Rejected asylum seekers are held in a closed centre before they are returned to their country of origin, the ministry explained.

“Besides the provision of basic necessities, migrants are monitored by a group of nurses and doctors, a psycho-social team and social workers employed by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers.

“Medical attention starts to be given immediately following the disembarkation in Malta, whereby the health authorities carry out the necessary screening and provide the necessary vaccinations.

“Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malta, the government has set up an additional medical centre in Ħal Far to deal specifically with migrants infected by the virus.”

The ministry said the residents of the closed centres have a number of telephone sets available inside the centres which give them the opportunity to make local and international calls.

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