Human rights jurists say migrant detention ‘at odds with international obligations’

Malta should abandon its policy of mandatory detention of migrants, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a new report.

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Matthew Vella
21 May 2012, 12:00am
ICJ director Róisín Pillay said the commission found cases of detention and reception conditions which may have amounted to degrading treatment, against the European Convention on Human Rights.
ICJ director Róisín Pillay said the commission found cases of detention and reception conditions which may have amounted to degrading treatment, against the European Convention on Human Rights.
Malta should abandon its policy of mandatory detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers and significantly improve reception conditions, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has said in a new report published today.

The global network of human rights lawyers said Malta's mandatory detention policy is 'at odds with its international human rights obligations', in a report entitled Not here to stay.

In the report, which is the result of an ICJ study mission in September 2011, the report highlights serious shortcomings in expulsion procedures, detention policy and conditions, and living conditions of migrants in reception centres.

"Malta's international human rights law obligations require it to provide decent reception conditions for migrants, even if they arrive in large numbers. They should not be detained except where strictly necessary, and should not be held in unsuitable emergency facilities," Róisín Pillay, director of the ICJ Europe Programme, said.

"During our visit, we found cases of detention and reception conditions, which may have amounted to degrading treatment against the standard imposed by the European Convention on Human Rights."

The report stresses that Malta is in a particularly difficult situation as a small country that receives proportionately much higher numbers of arrivals of undocumented migrants than other Member States of the European Union. It insists the EU should do more to help Malta cope with arrivals of migrants.

"The EU and its Member States cannot exempt themselves from sharing responsibility for the burden Malta is facing," ICJ legal advisor Massimo Frigo, said. "They must accept long-term responsibility for a proportion of resettlements, and not only as a voluntary gesture."

The ICJ quotes the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, according to which policies on border checks, asylum and immigration and their implementation "shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing or responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States."

"However, this cannot be a justification for Malta to neglect its international human rights obligations," Frigo added. "Twelve or eighteen months of administrative detention for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers will not solve the country's migration problems. The accommodation of families in the unhealthy conditions experienced in 2011 should not be repeated."

The ICJ study mission was conducted between 26 and 30 September 2011 and included visits to administrative detention centres (closed centres) and reception centres (open centres) in Malta.

Composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists promotes human rights using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights.

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.