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UNHCR, Alternattiva call for comprehensive review of ‘outdated’ detention policy

Three to be arraigned over death of Malian asylum seeker 'Zoto'.

Matthew Vella
1 July 2012, 12:00am
UNHCR Jon Hoisaeter said Malta's detention system must undergo a comprehensive policy review.
UNHCR Jon Hoisaeter said Malta's detention system must undergo a comprehensive policy review.
The United Nations' refugee agency has called for the review of Malta's mandatory detention policy, in the wake of the murder of a Malian asylum seeker, Abdallah Mohammed, 32, while he was in the custody of three Detention Services Unit officers.

The three officers were arraigned in the court of Magistrate Audrey Demicoli, Sunday evening.

"UNHCR was shocked and saddened to hear that a Malian migrant, who arrived in Malta as an asylum seeker, has died while in the custody of detention staff," a spokesperson for the UN's High Commission for Refugees in Malta said.

"We cannot comment on the specific circumstances of this tragic case, but we add our voice to the call for justice to be served. We trust that the ongoing inquiry will assess all relevant responsibilities and identify accountabilities in a fair manner," UNHCR said, echoing calls for justice to be made by political parties and other stakeholders.

But UNHCR said it was time that Malta's detention policy gets a comprehensive policy review. "The prevailing policy framework dates from 2005 - a time when Malta had much less experience with managing the arrival of asylum seekers. Since then, court decisions and multiple assessments by international bodies have confirmed the need to address various aspects of the detention system.

UNHCR representative Jon Hoisaeter said that one urgent issue for the agency was that even vulnerable individuals, including children, are entering the regular detention system during the initial screening phase.

"In UNHCR's view, Malta should explore alternatives to the current detention arrangements. Whatever form such a system review could take, it should aim to urgently solve several key problems that can place asylum seekers and staff at risk.

"UNHCR is ready to provide further support to the Maltese Government in improving the reception system. Much can be achieved, even without additional resources. We urge the authorities to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in a joint effort towards achieving this goal."
Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party expressed its concern over the murder, and called for an immediate review of Maltas detention policy.

"This terrible news is shocking. It only confirms that populist politics, racism and unreasonable detention of asylum seekers are the real problem with respect to the politics of migration," AD chairperson Michael Briguglio said.

"Whilst I welcome Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's strong words this morning on the situation, the fact is that both the Nationalist and Labour Parties have done next to nothing to have a humane politics of migration, with Labour even venturing on far right rhetoric in certain instances.
"Together with the UNHCR and progressive NGOs, AD reiterates its call for an immediate review of Malta's detention policy. AD has made concrete proposals in this regard".
Robert Callus, AD spokesperson for migration and citizenship, said: "For 10 years the government tried to give the impression that migration is a temporary phenomenon when they knew pretty well it wasn't.  The Government ignored detention problems, exploitation at the place of work and only paid lip service to integration policy. Addressing these serious problems would have exposed what they knew all along - that some migrants are here to stay."

Matthew Vella is editor and MaltaToday on Sunday.

He joined Mediat...
Jessica Smith
Detention must be EXTENDED to the whole time that illegal immigrants do not agree to go back to their own countries and their countries actually take them back. Why should they be allowed to roam our streets when we know absolutely NOTHING about them?
Jessica Smith
UNHCR, if you don't like it tell them not to come to Malta and take those already here to your own countries. DETENTION IS HERE TO STAY AND WE WANT IT EXTENDED UNTIL THEY ALL AGREE TO GO BACK.
louis fenech
UNHCR rather than crtisise our service it will be better to try to help us to avoid the arrivals of these immigrants.
Louise Vella
III "We urge the authorities to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society" - meaning put JRS in charge of Malta's policy towards illegal immigrants, as if the 3 muskeeters (Lawrence Gonzi, Frank Psaila and Mario Guido Friggieri) were not enough to attract the influx.
Louise Vella
II So finally UNHCR big boss Gutteres did not come to Malta in June, as then Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici had announced last May. Instead we are getting these statements by Hoisaeter and Jolles, two middle-ranking officials of an organization that is not very highly regarded in the UN system. We knew anyway what Gutteres would have said: that the detention system has to be scrapped; that the detention centres are below standard; that Malta should accept all the boatfuls of illegal immigrants that the sea will wash on our shores. In the meantime UNHCR has never offered to take some 1000 illegal immigrants from Malta. Instead it expects the Maltese government to pressure (!) the Libyan government to accept UNHCR in its midst and give it a free rein in Libya.
Louise Vella
I The Norwegian Jon Hoisaeter is the latest in a series of UNHCR officials who have taken a hostile stance towards Malta. Only two days ago it was another middle-ranking UNHCR representative in Rome, Laurens Jolles, who took issue with Malta’s foreign minister Tonio Borg. Before that we remember UNHCR representative Michele Manca de Nissa’s role during the riots in the detention centres in Hal Safi in January 2005 (see the Depasquale report). Then there was UNHCR representative Neil Falzon trying to ram the illegal immigrants down our throats during the crisis with the Spanish trawler. Throughout there have been the arrogant statements by UNHCR representatives Laura Boldrini. Malta is a sovereign and independent country and UNHCR should get off our backs.