Four migrants, detained for 166 days, have been released by a magistrate who condemned the "abusive and farcical" policy that thrusts migrants into detention “against their will” when open centres run out of space.

The plight of illegally detained migrants came to the fore last week when four men, one detained at the Safi centre and three others at Lyster Barracks, filed urgent applications requesting immediate release.

The applicants explained how, after being rescued at sea on June 7, they had been taken to the detention centres, without any explanation, nor any documents to prove the legal justification for such detention. 

They were later taken to a clinic for a medical checkup but, 166 days into their detention, they had still not been informed about the outcome. 

The applications for the urgent habeas corpus (claims of unlawful deprivation of liberty proceedings) landed before Magistrate Victor George Axiak, with police authorities confirming that the detention of all four applicants had not been ordered by the police commissioner. 

In the light of evidence put forward, the court observed that this situation stemmed from a policy adopted by some department or ministry, whereby whenever there was lack of space at the open centres, newcomers were taken to detention centres, “against their will and simply because they have no alternative accommodation.”

Such “abusive and farcical” behaviour on the part of authorities, although not the police commissioner, was condemned by the court, which ordered the migrants’ immediate release, stating that their continued detention lacked a legal basis.

Meanwhile, the court observed that the four migrants were being offered temporary accommodation by aditus Foundation until an alternative solution was found.

The court also ordered service of its decree upon the Attorney General and the Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement. 

This decision follows a similar one last month by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras who had ordered the immediate release of a migrant, illegally detained for 144 days

The applicants’ lawyer, Neil Falzon, on behalf of aditus, welcomed this recent decision, saying that they “strongly welcome the Court's use of the adjectives 'abusive and farcical' to blast the human rights mess created by the government.”

“Malta refuses much-needed support from the European Union to create more space for refugees and then locks up people because of this very lack of space. Abusive and farcical indeed," he said.

“It is a great comfort for us and for our clients to confirm that justice is indeed possible through our Courts of Law. We will bring case after case until the Government decides to engage in dialogue with us to seek a humane solution to the current crisis."

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