Asylum seekers are being detained illegally for weeks on end in unsanitary conditions on the pretext of health checks, a group of 34 NGOs have said.

The NGOs noted that the law only allows authorities to detain people for periods of up to four weeks which can under exceptional circumstances be extended to 10 weeks.

However, people brought to Malta after being rescued at sea were often spending anything up to 13 weeks under lock and key, with nobody telling them how long they would be kept there.

“It would appear that in practice the main reason for their ongoing detention is the lack of space in the open centres,” the NGOs said in a statement on Friday.

“While we fully appreciate the strain that the large number of arrivals has placed on Malta’s reception system, resource constraints, no matter how severe, can and should never be used to justify deprivation of liberty”.

The NGOs urged authorities to immediately release anyone currently in detention for medical screening and said existing resources needed to be increased to ensure authorities could cope with the strain.

Why did NGOs issue the statement?

The statement comes just a few days after several people being held at a detention centre at the Armed Forces of Malta’s Safi barracks protested loudly at night, banging on gates and yelling “freedom”.

A man who was detained inside the barracks for several weeks told Times of Malta that conditions were abysmal, with people lining up outside toilets to get drinking water from taps and other basic necessities, such as toothpaste, disregarded. 

Malta’s facilities for asylum seekers have been stretched over the past months following the arrival of hundreds of migrants rescued by a series of charity rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean.

The Maltese government has allowed the migrants in after striking relocation deals with several other EU member states. Some member states have started taking in their share of the asylum seekers. Others have yet to do so.

In their statement, the NGOs said that while they were pleased to see Malta assume “leadership” and provide the migrants with a safe haven, work now had to be undertaken to ensure the country’s reception system could cope with arrivals.

“We affirm once more our willingness to support any and all initiatives aimed at improving reception conditions for asylum seekers in Malta,” they said.

Which NGOs endorsed the statement? 

1. aditus foundation

2. African Media Association Malta

3. Agara Foundation

4. Catholic Voices

5. Christian Life Communities (CLC)

6. Cross Culture International Foundation (CCIF)

7. Dar tal-Providenza

8. Department of Gender Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta

9. Drachma LGBTI

10. Drachma Parents’ Group

11. Fondazzjoni Sebh

12. Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants

13. Fundazzjoni Paci u Gid

14. Integra Foundation

15. Isles of the Left

16. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta

17. Jesuits in Malta

18. Kopin

19. Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci

20. Malta Emigrants Commission

21. Moviment Graffiti

22. Office of the Dean, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta

23. Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malta

24. Paolo Freire Institute

25. Richmond Foundation

26. Salesians of Don Bosco

27. Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija

28. Solidarity with Migrants Group

29. SOS Malta

30. Spark 15

31. St Jeanne Antide Foundation

32. The Critical Institute

33. Women’s Rights Foundation

34. Youth Alive Foundation


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