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Malian migrants’ detention in breach of the law and human dignity, NGOs warn Muscat

'They have done nothing to be treated like criminals, deprived of their liberty in difficult conditions and carted around in handcuffs, portraying them as posing a great danger to our society'

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
12 February 2017, 6:35pm
The Malian migrants have been locked up in detention since 16 November
The Malian migrants have been locked up in detention since 16 November
The prolonged detention of nine Malian migrants ahead of their planned deportation goes against national and EU law and breaches their human dignity, a group of human rights NGOs have warned.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and home affairs minister Carmelo Abela, the NGOs urged the government to release the nine men from detention immediately. 

“EU and national law clearly state that a government’s power to detain migrants for the purposes of removal is not absolute,” the letter reads. “Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, where it is strictly necessary and where it is not possible to use other less coercive measures to effect return, particularly because of a risk of absconding or lack of cooperation on the part of the individual concerned.

"Further, the law clearly states that detention should be for the shortest time possible and, where removal cannot take place due to legal or other considerations, the individual concerned should be immediately released. These legal requirements are also clearly included in the right to liberty protect in Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.”

The NGOs said that the nine migrants have always abided by the law and cooperated with the immigration police, making it difficult to argue that it is not possible to use less coercive measures to affect their deportation.

Moreover, they questioned whether government had carried out individual assessments to ascertain that their detention is both necessary and proportionate, as required by the law.

“Together with the legality of this continued detention, we believe that it is an affront to human dignity to treat in this way law-abiding people who have lived in our midst for several years and contributed to our society,” the NGOs wrote. “They have done nothing to be treated like criminals, deprived of their liberty in difficult conditions and carted around in handcuffs, portraying them as posing a great danger to our society.

“While we acknowledge that the state has the right to affect the removal of those who have no legal permission to stay, we strongly underline this must be done in a way that respects the fundamental dignity of each individual.”

The NGOs who signed the letter are: aditus Foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants' Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, and Spark15.

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela had said the migrants might be released from detention if their documents take too long to arrive
Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela had said the migrants might be released from detention if their documents take too long to arrive
Read more: Malian migrant 'becomes suicidal' while locked up in squalid detention

The nine migrants are the last remaining of 33 Malians who were rounded up and detained on 16 November last year, as part of a joint EU programme which saw the EU agree to provide aid to Mali in return for the West African country’s commitment to accept failed asylum seekers.

Carmelo Abela said that the nine migrants were positively identified as Malian nationals by a delegation from Mali that visited Malta on 6 and 7 December to conduct interviews. However, the Maltese government is still awaiting documentation from the Malian authorities for the nine migrants two months down the line. In January, Abela had indicated that the government might be open to releasing the migrants from the detention centre if their documents take too long to arrive.

A group of activists and academics this week launched the ‘Free the Nine’ campaign to pressure the authorities into releasing the migrants. A silent gathering in solidarity with the migrants will be held outside the Safi detention centre on the evening of 14 February.

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