Measures have been taken to limit physical contact at Ħal Far open centre, but overcrowding and a lack of sanitation are still a big issue, migrants told Times of Malta on Thursday.

The open centre was put on lockdown on Sunday evening after eight residents tested positive to COVID-19. 

Migrants have since confirmed that they are no longer queuing for food, as this was being distributed to them in their cabin, and a face mask had been handed out to each of them.

However, the authorities had fallen short on their promises of soap and additional sanitary facilities.

Farouk* said hand soap had been handed out to residents at the beginning of the week, but with at least eight people per cabin sharing a bottle of soap, supplies had already run out and had not been replaced.

He had also run out of shampoo and shower soap.

However, Mahmoudi* said he had never been given any soap to begin with and there were no detergents to clean the room with which was “worrying”.

“People are getting nervous and fights are breaking out for the least thing. We are still very crowded, especially in our rooms and we have no soap,” he said.

On Monday, the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers had also told Times of Malta more sanitary facilities were also being installed on site.

But by Thursday migrants reported that there still weren’t any additional facilities. 

They were still queuing to use bathroom facilities and were allowed in eight at a time.

Farouk* said the facilities were cleaned in the morning, but by late afternoon and early evening they were filthy.

“But our biggest concern is that we might have COVID-19. You see people coughing and sneezing everywhere, and you start growing increasingly worried.

Why haven’t we all been tested so that our mind is put at rest,” he asked.

On Monday, director of Aditus Neil Falzon said that locking down hundreds of people in such a small place with below standard hygiene facilities was a public health risk. 

He suggested the government issue a tender for the supply of hotel and hostel rooms that are currently vacant to host asylum seekers and others who are becoming homeless. 

NGO access to the Ħal Far open centre has been limited ever since measures were taken to prevent the spread of the virus. 

*The names of the persons have been changed to protect their identity

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