Updated Friday 7.25 am with reactions - An inquiry into the death of Malian migrant Mamadou Kamara while in the custody of the Detention Service in June 2012 highlighted the sorry state of the detention structures at the time. However, the man now responsible for the facilities, Col Mario Schembri told Times of Malta that the way the detention centres were run at the time the inquiry was held was ' a thing of the past'.
Col Brian Gatt, who headed the service, as well as other witnesses and NGOs told the inquiry that in 2012:
• Some 70 per cent of the soldiers assigned to man the Detention Service were the army’s rejects; the “worst people in the army” who nobody wanted. Being deployed to the detention services was considered a punishment.
• The detention structures created were weak and not designed to handle so many migrants.
• The environment was described as “horrendous” with extreme heat, dirt and no privacy for 200 to 300 detained men living in the dormitory-style halls.
• When Col Gatt complained that he had no officer, he was assigned a person who had been arraigned for shooting at a yacht. His reaction to his superiors was: “Are you guys in your right senses? We’ve just had this migrant’s incident and you’re sending me somebody who’s tainted with another crime?”
• One time, a womanising sergeant at the Ħal Far detention centre was caught lurking in the women’s quarters at night while on watch. He even took a woman migrant into his office and condoms were found in the room.
• Another time a soldier with a usury habit was deployed to these same quarters. One time, he set out at night with an unsuspecting driver who returned terrified and told Col Gatt they had been stopped by armed men in a BMW.
• If anything was to be successfully achieved, Col Gatt believed the structures and the people had to change.
• On one occasion, nine immigrants escaped and when Col Gatt confronted the bombardier in charge and asked if he knew the procedure in place, the officer simply picked up the rule book and said: “Here are the regulations but I don’t follow them”. This negligent bombardier had failed to lock three of four doors.
• It was pointed out that the system put the onus of caring for migrants on the soldier. A soldier who is trained to fight and defend has to work as a social worker.
• The bigger problem was at the institutional level and NGOs had long been warning political parties that “one day someone will be killed because the way the system worked dehumanised migrants”. They were treated as “illegal objects” with no rights or access to procedures. The system created an environment of animosity where both the guards and the migrants felt they were the victims.
The “horrendous” manner in which centres were run when two migrants died between 2011 and 2012 is a thing of the past,
DETENTION CENTRES PROBLEMS REMEDIED
In his reaction, Col Schembri said operations were now running smoothly and none of the personnel under his command had any grievances with their posting.
None of the people indicated by his predecessor were still involved in detention services. In fact, he had a smaller staff complement than the previous detention head used to have.
Mr Kamara died of a heart attack after suffering a blunt force trauma to the groin.
He is believed to have died while officers were taking him to receive medical care at the Paola health centre.
According to the report, detention officers had tried to send Mr Kamara to Mount Carmel Hospital to “get rid of him” because he was causing a stir in the Safi centre.
When the request was turned down, he was taken back to the detention centre where he assaulted an officer and fled. When apprehended, he bit another officer in the arm, the report says.
It was after this incident, that Mr Kamara was put in a steel cage at the back of a detention centre van and fatally beaten.
According to two separate post mortem examinations he suffered a haemorrhage around the left testicle after being forcefully kneed in the groin. The trauma was so severe it caused a fatal heart attack. Clouding around the eyes, one post mortem report adds, was proof that Mr Kamara died in severe pain.
The report concludes that the two officers who were in the cage with the then handcuffed Mr Kamara had broken transport protocol as they should have been sitting on the front seats.