There will be no inquiry into the use of rubber bullets during a riot at Safi detention centre last week, the Justice and Home Affairs Ministry said as NGOs voiced their concern about the response.

A ministry spokesman said there was “no need for an inquiry”.

The ministry defended the use of baton rounds, as the bullets are known, saying they were considered a “legitimate form of non-lethal force” in the circumstances and were only used when other options to quell the riots were exhausted.

The riot was started by tens of migrants who six months ago fled Libya and were refused asylum. Several of them set fire to mattresses and skips and pelted police officers and soldiers with stones.

One migrant was hurt and 15 police officers and three soldiers suffered hand injuries.

Integra, a human rights voluntary organisation which yesterday called for an inquiry, said the use of the rubber bullets was “clearly a disproportionate response” and asked whether the armed forces were ready to use such ammunition against members of Maltese society participating in protests.

“The use of rubber bullets within the detention centres, may, on the other hand, reflect a more worrying pattern, namely the dehumanisation of irregular migrants and asylum seekers in Malta,” a spokesman for Integra said.

The conditions at detention centres were leading to “excessive, potentially lethal use of force against certain groups of human beings” being not only justified “but also welcomed by the government, the opposition and the AFM”.

Human rights lawyer Neil Falzon also questioned whether the use of rubber bullets was appropriate, given that the migrants were in an enclosed space and could not escape.

Jesuit Refugee Service lawyer Katrine Camilleri argued that “given that a considerable amount of force was used, as rubber bullets are weapons that can cause serious injury and, in extreme cases, even death, it would be appropriate to institute an inquiry into the incident, even though no one appears to have been seriously injured”.

However, beyond the use of force, the riots once again drew attention to Malta’s 18-month detention policy, which is endorsed by the two major parties.

Dr Falzon referred to a European Court of Human Right’s decision last year in Louled Massoud vs Malta in which the court said that the “national system failed to protect the applicant from arbitrary detention” and that Mr Massoud’s 18-month detention in Malta was in violation of section four of article 5 of the European Human Rights Convention.

The government had defended its detention policy under section 1 of that same article, which deals with “the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition”.

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