Updated 1.20pm, adds AWAS statement

Migrants living in Ħal Far, including teenagers as young as 14, have been left without food for days since a riot broke out at the open centre on Sunday night.

The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) has stopped supplying the usual twice-daily meals, according to some of those left living at the facility, who spoke to Times of Malta.

Instead, residents are being left to depend on an allowance, which amounts to a maximum of €4.66 a day.

“For those who work, it’s OK,” one man from South Sudan, who has been living in Malta for about four months, said. “But for those who have not found work yet, it’s difficult, especially for the younger ones.”

AWAS staff at Ħal Far said they were instructed not to comment to the media when asked if migrants are not being fed and the Home Affairs Ministry did not reply to questions.

Marc Tilley, from search and rescue NGO Lifeline, also reported claims by residents that food is not being provided.

“Asylum seekers in Ħal Far, the site of recent protests, have been told the centre will continue to run without administration,” he said on Twitter.

“This means no provision of food, water, financial/legal/medical support. Residents whose documents were burned are no longer allowed access.”

In one of the worst riots in years, vehicles and an administration office were burnt on Sunday night after a group of migrants were banned from entering for being drunk.

Asylum seekers are offered residence at open centres in Malta for up to a year and are expected find a job and a place to live within that time.

While they are living at the open centre they are offered lunch and dinner and are given a monthly allowance of about €130 until they find work.

A group of migrants from South Sudan told Times of Malta they were fearful of spending their allowance because of the uncertainty of their situation since the riot.

While minors are also given the monthly allowance, they are not legally allowed to work.

A 17-year-old from South Sudan said: “How can you buy food for the month with that money?”

Times of Malta spoke to around 12 migrants at the facility, who all said they had been left without food. They said they were also worried about their safety and that some people had fled the facility, out of fear the police would arrest them.

“We are afraid of something happening,” one man said. “The police are arresting people and we are scared.”

Maria Pisani, from Human Rights organisation Integra, said there were particular concerns for the minors residing at the centre.

“These children are still pending an age assessment, which means that, officially, they are not recognised as children,” she said.

Once they go through age assessment, they would be subject to a care order and would be under the state’s protection.

The high number of boat arrivals and the lack of resources mean that minors have been falling through the cracks of the system, she said.

“You have people recognised as minors in detention who aren’t released because there’s nowhere to put them and others who have not been recognised as minors in the open centres who are stuck without a care order and abandoned.”

Dr Pisani acknowledged that AWAS had been doing the best they could with the resources they had been given and they needed to be better supported. However, she called on the relevant authorities to take action regarding the children. “Our concern now is for the welfare of these children as young as 14 who have essentially been abandoned and left alone.”

In a statement regarding the Ħal Far protests, the NGO Lifeline expressed solidarity with both the migrants and staff members at AWAS.

“We stand with the migrant community in Ħal Far who will now be left without access to basic provisions such as food, water and documents, tantamount to collective punishment for the frustrated and human actions of a few,” it said.

“We stand with the distressed staff of AWAS and local residents who are also directly victims of the above policy failures. We understand that violence is never the answer and condemn the full spectrum of violence - physical, emotional and structural - which led to this inevitable conclusion.”

Distribution of food to continue - AWAS

In a statement on Thursday, AWAS insisted there were no unaccompanied asylum seekers under the age of 16 formally residing at the Ħal Far tent village since the agency abided by the EU Reception Conditions Directive.

All unaccompanied asylum seekers under 16 transferred to Ħal Far were age assessed by a multidisciplinary team and their age established to be 16 years and over. 
The organisation said food was to continue to be distributed to migrants in collaboration with the Peace Lab.

The situation was still challenging because the area used by the administration and reception were still structurally unsafe, due to the fire, damaged electrical cables, and damaged premises.

The open centre had been rendered dysfunctional and the offices have been completely destroyed, it said. AWAS said it was working to restore functionality as soon as possible. It was also removing hazardous material to render the place safe, and establish logistical and administrative focal points.
It noted that it was working with reduced staff since a number of workers were reporting sick due to psychological difficulties suffered as a result of the riot.

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