Lt. Col. Brian Gatt, photographed at the Safi detention centre in 205, has managed the Detention Services Unit ever since its set-up. Photo: Gilbert Calleja/Mediatoday.
The shadow minister for home affairs and the Green Party's chairperson have reserved judgement over the fate of the head of the Detention Services Unit, Brian Gatt, for after the completion of an independent inquiry which has yet to be set up by the Prime Minister into the murder of a Malian asylum seeker.
Mamadou Kamara, 32, was beaten to death by three officers of the army's Detention Services Unit, after escaping his guards before he was to be referred to a health clinic.
Lt. Col. Brian Gatt, an Armed Forces of Malta officer who has been the head of detention services ever since its setting up, has declined comment over whether he is considering to resign after the incident, in which three DSU officers are being charged with the wilful homicide of Kamara.
Labour MP and shadow home affairs minister Michael Falzon would not commit himself on whether Gatt should resign, ahead of the inquiry's completion.
"Gatt should carry the responsibility for the death of Kamara," Falzon said, but stopped short of saying that the DSU commander should resign. "Whether he resigns or not is up to Gatt. The judicial process and an inquiry are underway and one must await the conclusions reached by these two separate processes."
Falzon noted that Kamara's death was the second case in which a migrant lost his life while in custody in recent years.
Alternattiva Demokratika Michael Briguglio also expressed caution over passing judgement on Gatt. "One should await the result of the inquiry... in any case, AD together with UNHCR and other progressive NGOs are calling for a review of Malta's detention policy."
Asked whether he supports calls to review the detention policy, now the clarion call for humanitarian NGOs who work in close contact with asylum seekers, Michael Falzon said the Kamara homicide was not related to detention policy, and underlined the "political consent" on the current policy.
"The detention policy should not change because as is not a blanket policy, but it allows the most vulnerable persons to avoid detention while others are kept up to a maximum of 18 months in detention," Falzon said.
"Kamara's death is very worrying," Falzon said, noting the suspicious circumstances in which the Malian national was found dead, while in the custody of persons who should be enforcing order and security.
The MP also insisted the Kamara case follows other cases in which people in custody have died, citing the death of Nicholas Azzopardi and Stephen Spiteri.
"It seems nothing was learnt from the 2005 and 2011 riots in the detention centres," Falzon, who pointed out he was not Labour's spokesperson for the armed forces, said.
"The whole system must undergo an overhaul. If the AFM is to be solely responsible for detention centres, a specialised unit within the army could be set up to oversee the running of detention centres."
While commending infrastructural improvements in detention centres, the Labour MP said that detention services should be revamped.
Falzon also said Labour has consistently criticised the situation in the detention services and the conditions in which its employees work. "The situation within the detention services does not justify incidents of this kind, but the system should be restructured."