Malta's "repressive" measures to try and stem illegal immigration are "dehumanising" and "ineffective", and will neither stop the migratory flow, nor protect the country's interests, according to a new EU report.

Malta's treatment of illegal immigrants has been singled out for criticism in an EU-wide study as the island is once again pulled up for failing to respect the human dignity of detainees.

The centres for immigrants are overcrowded, riddled with poor hygiene, arbitrary regimes, deficient healthcare, information and legal aid systems and lack of interpreters, according to a study commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

The report probes the conditions in centres for third country nationals with a particular provision for people with special needs in 25 EU states. It follows a number of visits by delegations from the committee to the member states and is the first study on the subject based on field studies throughout all EU countries.

In Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Italy and Greece, investigators said they found inhumane and degrading material and hygiene conditions.

The investigators were particularly shocked that in countries like Malta, the priority on arrival was to carry out administrative checks, rather than dispensing medical and psychological assistance.

Combining the duration of detention with the conditions can endanger the social and psychological de-structuring of people, the report warns. Such individuals will then find it even more difficult to integrate on a long-term basis into Maltese society. The report says that the majority of migrants arrive in Malta at the end of a psychologically and physically trying crossing.

In light of this situation, the medical and psychological care they are offered on arrival is inadequate. Only certain categories of vulnerable persons receive any special care and attention.

A number of people interviewed in detention camps, particularly in Malta, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain, reported that their requests to see physicians were not heeded by overworked staff.

The report says the migrant reception policy should be reviewed to ensure conformity with Malta's international and European obligations and the duration of detention should be limited, the report notes. There should also be transparency concerning the use of isolation cells.

Independent NGOs should be provided unrestricted access to assist detainees in exercising their rights and provide social support. The report says that those working in the centres, including guards and police officers, should be assisted to help them deal with psychologically and humanly trying situations.

An identification procedure should be clarified with strict time limits for the release of vulnerable people set by law.

The general reception conditions in the open centres were also criticised. The Ħal-Far 'tent city' cannot remain in its current state but should be converted into a centre with proper buildings, the report says. In no circumstances should it be used to accommodate vulnerable people.

Social services should be provided in all open centres and be available to all those accommodated in these centres.

The report also appeals to EU states to politically recognise the specifics of Malta's immigration problem and an action plan should be taken in hand to share responsibilities.

Funds should be allocated to sea search and rescue and setting up operational teams to provide support on arrival.

Asylum seekers and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection should be relocated to other European countries.

The Home Affairs Ministry disagrees with the contents of the report, saying that the study commissioned contains recommendations which go against Malta's national interest.

"Malta intends to continue with its detention policy, and at the same time ensure that the definition of vulnerable persons be more liberal, particularly for those who survive a traumatic experience," a spokesman for the ministry told The Sunday Times.

He said conditions of detention varied, depending on the arrivals and the number of people held. Some time ago, a private medical care system was introduced in line with the requirements of the Reception Directive.

A new detention centre is being constructed at Ta' Kandja, with partial EU funding, which should provide better accommodation for 400 immigrants. A national monitoring mechanism for detention centres was set up last year.

The spokesman recalled that in a resolution in April 2006, the European Parliament had supported the principle of burden-sharing and a revision of the Dublin II Convention in Malta's interests. While criticising the Maltese authorities, which have to face a crisis every summer, the report also proposes that protected people should be relocated to other European countries, he said.

"Such implementation would immediately alleviate the burden Malta is currently carrying, improve the general conditions of the centres through sheer reduction of numbers, and provide a future (for) people who never intended to come to Malta. If such proposal is ignored, it is difficult to take seriously the recommendations proposed if only part of them are intended to be implemented."

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