A man, illegally detained for 144 days after being rescued at sea last June, has been released by a magistrate, who voiced concern over the “substantial number” of migrants facing a similar fate.

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, upheld an urgent application, filed by the Ivorian man’s lawyer on Wednesday, for immediate release from unlawful detention. 

She pointed out that it is the seventh time this year that the court has had to deal with similar incidents and that it was a concern that people were being detained without a legal basis  “in a democratic society based on the rule of law”.

After being rescued at sea on June 7, the man was escorted to the Safi detention centre where he remained, even after applying for asylum status a week after his arrival.

No reason was ever given for his continued detention.

The man was taken for a medical examination, but was never informed about the outcome. 

After 144 days of detention, he appeared in court on Thursday where Assistant Commissioner Neville Xuereb declared that he was not and had never been detained by immigration authorities. 

Tanya Melillo, representing the Superintendent of Public Health also confirmed that there were no medical grounds to detain the applicant. 

The court also confirmed that arrangements have now been made to transfer him to ─Žal Far open centre. 

Magistrate Galea Sciberras ordered the applicant’s immediate release and repeated that there appeared to be a “substantial number” of similar cases. 

The court also notified the home affairs minister, the principal immigration officer and the detention services director of its judgment. 

The decision was welcomed by the man’s lawyer, Neil Falzon, on behalf of Aditus Foundation. 

Falzon said the decision underlines underlines that any form of detention must meet legal requirements. 

“It confirms what we have repeatedly stressed: Malta may not use illegal means to deal with its immigration concerns,” he said. 

“Safi and Lyster Barracks remain packed with men who are in a situation similar to our client’s: detained illegally in terrible conditions. We urge the Home Affairs Minister to take immediate action to stop this inhumanity at once.”

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