The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) confirms receiving reports of torture and abuse in Maltese detention facilities. ECRE members aditus foundation and JRS Malta, within the Malta Refugee Council, express shock over the lack of sensitivity by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) over their claims of “illegal immigrants” purposely self-harming to leave detention. Children of people protected under the Specific Residence Authorisation (SRA) status are denied access to basic rights.

EASO headquarters in the Maltese capital of Valletta confirms receiving reports from detainees at the Lyster and Safi barracks about severe abuse, reportedly including physical torture, beatings, electrocution, solitary confinement, and denial or delay of medical care. According to EASO spokesperson, Annis Cassar: “EASO takes these allegations extremely seriously”. The agency spokesperson further confirms that: “all such information is brought to the immediate attention of the responsible Maltese authorities. They have also been raised with the national authorities in discussions on several occasions and at several levels”. However, the ministry for home affairs, national security and law enforcement denies knowledge of such reports. Spokesperson for the minister, Byron Camilleri stated to local media:”There have not been reports of torture and such instances would be referred to the police immediately”.

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) has instructed its members to refuse admission to the mental health hospital to what they refer to as “illegal migrants” abusing the system. Without clarifying procedures for determining abuse of the system or documentation of the extent of this alleged problem, MUMN justified its instructions claiming that detainees who are being admitted to Mount Carmel hospital with self-inflicted wounds would harm themselves to escape detention. The leading Maltese human rights organisation, Malta Refugee Council released a statement strongly rejecting the initiative by MUMN: “We are shocked at the lack of sensitivity expressed in the recent statement of the MUMN. Ample research and our own experiences confirm the severe psychological harm caused by detention: it causes desperation and serious harm. These are otherwise healthy men, women and children who are locked up – often without any legal basis – in living conditions best described as awful and undignified. Too often we witness self-harm, suicide attempts and other actions that the Union brushes off as ‘abuses of the system’”.

The Specific Residence Authorisation status allows failed asylum seekers and people granted temporary humanitarian protection N (THPN) access to basic rights provided they can prove years of stable employment and have demonstrated the will to integrate. However, despite a revision of policies in November 2020 to streamline humanitarian protection and granting rights to children of parents holding SRA status, the Jesuit Refugee Service has encountered several cases of families facing problems with passing those rights on to their children. The legal status and identity documents determine access to all government services including schools and healthcare, leaving these children in a rights gap, and the organisation worries that the cases they encountered represent “only the tip of the iceberg”. Dr. Neil Falzon, Director of aditus foundation stated: “The best interests of the child principle, a legally-binding rule that ensures all decisions taken in respect of children are taken with their interests in mind, would seek to grant children the highest form of protection which in this case is SRA”.

Since 2007 Malta has received almost 22.5 million Euro in EU funds related to migration, asylum seekers and humanitarian aid. However, according to Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri’s response to a question from parliament on 1 February: “It should be clarified that Malta carried a disproportionate burden where the challenge of irregular migration is concerned and while we expect to qualify for these type of funds as is our right, it in no way means that this can be considered satisfactory compensation for the burden that our country has borne”. The minister further notes that his ministry based its strategy on migration on three principles; preventing arrivals, relocations to other EU member states and the repatriation of people who do not qualify for asylum.

On 4 February a group of rejected asylum seekers were returned to Ghana in a deportation flight coordinated by the Malta Police Immigration Section. According to media “a substantial part of the costs related to this operation was covered by European Union funds dedicated to return operations”.

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Photo: (CC) mini_malist, February 2019

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.