Six asylum seekers, unlawfully detained at the Safi detention centre, sought recourse before the courts to put an end to the illegality months after their release had been green-lighted by immigration authorities. 

While ordering the men’s immediate release, the court flagged the matter to local authorities to ensure that similar incidents “are not repeated”.

Assisted by Aditus director, lawyer Neil Falzon, seven Bangladeshi nationals who landed in Malta between February and July 2020, filed separate applications under a criminal law procedure, known as Habeas Corpus, seeking to put an end to their unlawful arrest. 

Upon their arrival, each of the men had applied for asylum status.

But well after the maximum nine-month term permissible under EU and Maltese law, they were still being detained in a closed centre. 

During the hearing, it emerged that five of the applicants had actually been released by the principal immigration officer months ago. 

Two of them were released in September, another was released in October and two others in January. 

In light of such evidence, the court, presided over by magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit, ordered the immediate release of all five applicants. 

The sixth did not qualify for refugee status or for any other form of protection under subsidiary legislation, police authorities argued. 

Yet, after hearing submissions by both parties, the court concluded that that applicant was also an asylum seeker, unlawfully detained since March, and also ordered his immediate release. 

The last migrant, possibly a minor, had apparently lied about his age upon arrival in Malta, after being told by fellow migrants that unaccompanied minors stood no chance of relocation to other EU states.

After being denied asylum status, he was targeted by a removal order. 

The court was informed that immigration officers were following the removal procedure “diligently” and had even contacted the Bangladeshi embassy in Greece so as to obtain the necessary documents. 

In light of such information, the magistrate ruled that the applicant’s detention was lawful but recommended a review of procedures in his regard so as to ascertain his true age. 

Meanwhile, the court ordered a copy of its decision to be served upon the Home Affairs Minister to ensure there such incidents would not be repeated, pointing out that these people had effectively been released months late and only after resorting to court. 

The decision was welcomed by the foundation, remarking that release of such asylum seekers ought to be “automatic and straightforward”.

“It is a stark reminder of the inhumane approach Malta has chosen for people it deems undeserving of fundamental human rights. We are glad that our courts have, once again, urged the authorities to refrain from detaining people illegally and from rendering them dependant on NGO lawyers for them to enjoy their freedom. We hope the ministry listens, and replies to our repeated invitations to discuss this extremely serious situation,” Aditus said. 

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