Updated 4.45pm with Mental Health Commissioner's statement
A nurses’ union has claimed that migrants are purposely self-harming to get themselves transferred out of detention centres.
The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses said that migrants, who it described as "illegal immigrants", were being admitted to Mount Carmel hospital with self-inflicted wounds despite not being prescribed any oral treatments, as was the case for other patients at the mental healthcare facility
The union said it was instructing its members to refuse admission to any such people who were "abusing from the system". It did not explain on what basis nurses were to make that determination or say how many such people it believed were abusing the system.
In a follow-up statement, the union said Mount Carmel management had assured it that "most of the illegal immigrants are going to be deployed elsewhere".
Right to asylum is guaranteed under international law and applying for asylum upon entry into a country is not illegal.
The MUMN said these patients were “just on the wards cause havoc and harassment [sic] to the other patients and staff working in the Admission Ward”.
It said migrants were under the mistaken impression that they could be released into open centres or repatriated if they managed to enter Mount Carmel.
The union said problems were compounded by the fact that migrants were unattended while at Mount Carmel, with detention officers stationed outside wards. A shortage of nurses at the mental health hospital meant it was “impossible to control such patients,” the union said.
MUMN said that it could not understand why “illegal immigrants” were being admitted to Mount Carmel given that a purposely built unit had been set up at “the dentation [sic] centre” to cater for such patients.
It said that given the strain workers at Mount Carmel were under, with a lack of adequate infrastructure and available beds, it was instructing union members to refuse admission to “illegal immigrants that are abusing from the system”.
The union also urged the mental health commissioner to look into the matter and report abuse to the health and home affairs ministries.
Refugee council 'shocked' at union's lack of sensitivity
In a reply, the Malta Refugee Council expressed shock at MUMN’s “lack of sensitivity”.
“Ample research and our own experiences confirm the severe psychological harm caused by detention. These are otherwise healthy men, women and children who are locked up - often without any legal basis - in living conditions best described as awful and undignified,” it said.
It added it often witnessed self-harm, suicide attempts and other actions that the union brushed off as “abuses of the system”.
“For us, these are not abuses but the extremely worrying effects of a policy that entirely dehumanises people who, very often, are already suffering from trauma and other severe mental health issues,” it said.
While it appreciated the challenges being faced by mental health professionals, including within the difficult environment of Mount Carmel Hospital, it underlined the need for all persons to receive appropriate treatment for their mental health problems without discrimination or attention to immigration status.
It urged the union to “immediately withdraw” its instructions to members so that detained migrants will be able to receive the attention and care they needed to live in dignity.
Claims of ulterior motives unfair - Mental Health Commissioner
The Mental Health Commissioner has warned that claims of ulterior motives were unfair on those suffering mental health issues.
In a statement on Friday, Dr John Caciha said Maltese law ensured that mental health services were delivered without discrimination.
"People are admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital only after appropriate assessment indicating such need. Assessment of a person’s mental health challenges is done by specialists following relevant referral. This is purely a clinical decision based on the individual’s situation and it varies with each person.
"Alleging ulterior motives to persons seeking, or being referred for, psychological/psychiatric assessment and assistance is grossly unfair to persons who are suffering from mental health issues. This is especially so in cases of self-harm."
He warned that such labelling could disincentive people from seeking help as well as further perpetuating the prevailing stigma surrounding mental illness.