In a recent ruling the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Malta in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in a case of an applicant detained in degrading conditions for an extended period of time and unable to exercise his right to petition before the Court. Following a report by the Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee (CPT) calling on Malta to improve the treatment of detained migrants, the Malta Refugee Council demands an overhaul of the island’s detention regime.

In its judgement of Feilazoo v. Malta, the case of a Nigerian national placed in immigration detention pending deportation for fourteen months, ECHR found Malta in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Referring to inadequate immigration detention conditions, unjustified placement in COVID-19 quarantine and ineffective legal representation before Court, ECHR found violations of articles 3, 5(1) and 34. The Court was: ”particularly struck by the fact that the applicant had been held alone in a container for nearly seventy-five days without access to natural light or air, and that during the first forty days he had no opportunity to exercise. Furthermore, during that period, and particularly the first forty days, the applicant had been subjected to a de facto isolation”. Despite the applicant’s prior isolation he was later placed in a facility holding asylum seekers under COVID-19 quarantine: “Thus, placing him, for several weeks, with other persons who could have posed a risk to his health”. The court also established that “the applicant had been put in a position in which his efforts to exercise his right to individual petition before the Court by way of legal representation appointed under the domestic legal aid system had failed, as a result of the State’s hindrance”. The man was awarded 25,000 in compensation.

In a report published on 10 March based on a rapid reaction ad hoc visit to Malta in September 2020, CPT found: “an immigration system that was struggling to cope: a system that purely “contained” migrants who had essentially been forgotten, within poor conditions of detention and regimes which verged on institutional mass neglect by the authorities. Indeed, the living conditions, regimes, lack of due process safeguards, treatment of vulnerable groups and some specific Covid-19 measures were found to be so problematic that they may well amount to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The report includes an incident of a young Sudanese who was injured following an attempt to escape and later died with CPT unable to: “reassure itself that staff, including health-care staff, had reacted sufficiently promptly when crucial help was needed to attempt to save this young man’s life from the effects of suspected internal bleeding over a period of at least three hours.” Local media reports have since documented the dire conditions at the Ħal Far detention centre used for isolation of COVID-19 positive asylum seekers. Media requests for access have been ignored but photos provided by a source in Malta’s detention service to “show people what it’s like to be stuck in the detention services system in Malta” show bathrooms and dormitories with mould-infested walls and filthy toilets. In a press release send to ECRE, Malta Refugee Council welcomes the report by CPT but while noting positive developments brought about by the new Detention Services Director, the organisation hopes that: ”these developments are merely the first steps of a major overhaul of the situation in the centres”. Malta Refugee Council points to the fact that there are alternatives to detention as outlined by the International Detention Coalition.

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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.