Detention for asylum seekers could be reduced to nine months

The amendments are in response to demands by the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers, calling upon Malta to adhere to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights after three migrants successfully challenged their prolonged detention.

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
9 February 2015, 10:46am
The maximum detention period for asylum seekers is expected to be reduced from a mandatory 12 months to nine months, according to plans by the government to amend the Immigration Act.

The amendments are in response to demands by the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers, calling upon Malta to adhere to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights after three migrants successfully challenged their prolonged detention.

In all three cases, the ECHR declared that the Maltese legal system did not allow them to challenge their detention in an effective and speedy manner.

The reduction of the detention period is also in line with the recast EU directive on reception conditions for migrants, which advocates a shorter detention period.

In 2013, the Court declared that one of the three migrants, Suso Musa, had been detained arbitrarily after it took over six months to determine his asylum application, as well as raising concerns about the conditions of the detention centre.

Following Musa’s case, the ECHR slapped the Maltese government with a €27,000 fine in damages and costs to Musa, and ordered it to amend the law to allow asylum seekers to challenge their detention within a time-frame deemed fair by the Geneva Conventions. It also advised Malta to limit its detention periods and to improve its detention conditions. 

During a meeting last June with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the government revealed that it had drawn up a bill to amend the Immigration Act and that it would adopt it by the end of 2014. However, it has not yet been presented in Parliament. 

The bill will allow detainees whose deportation cannot be ensured within a reasonable time to apply to the Immigration Appeals Board to be granted release. Only those immigrants who are proven to have purposely destroyed their travel documents or have made use of false documents will be denied this right of release. 

Also, the Principal Immigration Officer will only be able to order the detention of an asylum seeker if the order is written in a language that the immigrant is expected to understand and if it contains the reasons for detention.

The detainee must also be advised as to how he can challenge this detention order. Therefore, the government plans to offer free legal aid to immigrants as from July. 

When a detainee challenges his detention, the Immigration Appeals Board must review his application within a week, or two weeks in the case of justified reasons such as an influx of applications. If the applicant remains in detention, then the board must review his application every two months. If the board decides that the immigrant’s detention is indeed unlawful, then the immigrant will be released from detention immediately. 

Moreover, detention centres will now include open-air spaces, separate accommodation facilities for male and female detainees, facilities for detainee families, and spaces for recreational and social activities, the government told the Committee of Ministers.