UNHCR has expressed 'deep concern' about the fire that broke out at the Initial Reception Centre in Marsa on Wednesday and urged the government to improve conditions at migrants' centre.

The authorities are investigating the cause of the mid-day blaze which caused the evacuation of almost 500 migrants. A number of arrests were made. Most of the migrants were later allowed back into the centre, while others were moved to ─Žal Far.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was glad no one was hurt, and in thanked the emergency services for acting swiftly.

"While condemning all forms of violence and vandalism, we reiterate that detaining people, including children, for prolonged periods has a detrimental effect on mental and physical wellbeing. The substandard conditions in the centres contribute to the feeling of frustration among asylum-seekers, many of whom arrived in Malta after having experienced inhumane treatment when fleeing their country and on their journey. Detention of asylum-seekers in a manner that is not within strict legal basis needs to be addressed as a matter of priority," the organisation said. 

In what was probably a reference to a Facebook post by former minister Konrad Mizzi, the UNHCR also called for 'responsible discourse when discussing issues related to asylum-seekers and refugees' and stressed the importance of avoiding inflammatory rhetoric.

The UNHCR acknowledged that the increase of sea arrivals in Malta has strained the asylum system, particularly the reception space in open and closed centres. Countries such as Malta, located at the external borders of the EU, need practical solidarity and support from other EU countries, including the establishment of predictable and effective mechanisms for disembarkation and relocation of asylum-seekers, it said. 

In the meantime, it called on the government to take urgent action to tackle conditions at migrants' centres and increase capacity to mitigate the situation of overcrowding.

"The situation in the centres has been tense for several months now and it is clear that a rapid solution needs to be found as the status quo is untenable," it said, while offering its help to the government. 

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