The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights was left "struck by the deplorable situation" in one of the blocks at the Safi Detention Centre during a visit to Malta last week.

During her six-day trip here, Dunja Mijatović visited the Safi Detention Centre and two open centres in Ħal Far, where she held talks with the authorities and some asylum seekers.

"While noting the recent efforts made to improve living conditions in these centres, the Commissioner was struck by the deplorable situation in Block A in the Safi Detention Centre," her office said on Monday.

"She strongly urged the authorities to take immediate action to ensure dignified conditions for all those currently held there."

Although the number of those detained, including children, was recently significantly reduced, the Commissioner observed "uncertainties about the legal grounds and the safeguards related to some detention measures".

“I call on the authorities to focus on investing in alternatives to detention and to ensure that no children or vulnerable people are detained," she said.

The Commissioner also called for independent monitoring of detention centres and unhindered access for NGOs to provide support and assistance to detainees.

Times of Malta has been told that while humanitarian lawyers can visit clients, they need to have identified them beforehand - they cannot access the centre to detect vulnerable people who are not aware of the pro bono service.

And a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently also claimed that migrants in detention have limited access to the outside world, including lawyers, detention monitors and civil society organisations.

In its report the OHCRC had also flagged multiple instances of depression, self-harm and attempted suicide, alleging that some guards taunted detainees, telling them to “go ahead, kill yourselves”.

Separately, a Council of Europe report accusing the government of breaking international law and flouting European values earlier this year laid bare the state of Malta's migrant centres during COVID-19.

A delegation of the CoE's torture committee had visited Malta in September 2020 and found migrants who were “forgotten for months”, locked in filthy and degrading conditions without adequate healthcare.

And last year the UN Human Rights Office flagged concern over reports that migrants living in detention centres in Malta were being held in severely overcrowded conditions with little access to daylight.

'Libya is not a safe place for disembarkation'

The Commissioner also said that the human rights of those in distress at sea should never be put at risk.  

"Particularly, the authorities should ensure that their actions do not lead, either directly or indirectly, to returns to Libya, which is not a safe place for disembarkation."

'Repeal provisions criminalising abortion'

In her statement on Monday, the commissioner also flagged Malta's total ban on abortions, making it "one of the most restrictive among Council of Europe member states".

The Commissioner called on the authorities to urgently repeal provisions criminalising abortion and ensure all women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion care.

She welcomed the developing debate on this issue but stressed that “the fact that abortion is still criminalised and stigmatised not only puts Maltese women’s health at risk but also affects their equal enjoyment of other human rights”.

'Implement Caruana Galizia public inquiry recommendations'

Mijatović also called for the implementation of the recommendations of the public inquiry report that found that the state bore responsibility for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

This should be a top priority for the government, she said.

During her visit last week, marking four years from the murder, Mijatović said justice has not yet been done for the journalist. 

“Investigations into her killing are still ongoing and despite some progress, full accountability has not yet been established. As the investigations continue, it is crucial that the Maltese authorities identify and prosecute all those responsible,” Mijatović said on Saturday.

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