[WATCH] Marsa migrant centre fire was started after group's demand for freedom not met, court told

Wednesday’s riot at the Marsa initial reception centre started after a group of migrants had a fruitless meeting with asylum seeker welfare agency AWAS, a court was told on Friday

Migrants being escorted into court on Friday afternoon
Migrants being escorted into court on Friday afternoon

Wednesday’s riot at the Marsa initial reception centre started after a group of migrants had a fruitless meeting with asylum seeker welfare agency AWAS, a court has been told.

20 detainees from various countries have been charged with taking part in a riot at the Marsa initial reception centre on Wednesday.

The men, five of which are minors, were arraigned before magistrate Gabriella Vella at 2pm this afternoon.

Inspectors Sarah Zerafa and Paul Camilleri charged the men with criminal damage, forming part of an illegal gathering with the intent of committing a crime, disobeying legitimate orders and breaching the peace.

Five of the accused are under 18 years of age. The oldest is 30. Four of the men, aged 15, 17, 19 and 21 were also charged separately with arson.

Police investigations had established that a number of migrants residing at the Marsa centre, which houses over 400 migrants, had started rioting in the main dormitory on 8 January, starting a fire which engulfed the room just a few moments later. Other rooms were also damaged.

Police were called in at 1pm and with the help of centre officials evacuated the building until Civil Protection Department personnel put out the flames.

11 centre workers and three migrants had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

This afternoon, the accused, who come from Guinea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Gambia, South Sudan, Senegal and Bangladesh, arrived in a police van and were ushered up the steps of the court building and into the courtroom.

Lawyer Leontine Calleja, appointed as legal aid to the men, explained that she would be representing both groups just for the arraignment, as a conflict of interest between the two sets of accused could emerge later on.

Inspector Zerafa explained how the police had reacted to an emergency call from the centre and had established that the fire had started in a dormitory referred to as “the gym.” Security staff had explained that there had been protests since the morning and some of the men had just spoken to an AWAS representative demanding their freedom.

They were angry at not being freed and were overheard saying that they would start a fire, she said.

The four charged with arson, Raule Josef, 21, Mouse Abdul Qani 19, and two minors aged 15 and 17, all pleaded not guilty.

Bail was not requested.

Next, to be arraigned were the other 16 men, who were charged with the same offences as the first group, bar that of arson. The defence and prosecution were allowed to approach the bench to discuss the case privately with the magistrate.

12 of the men pleaded not guilty, and four admitted to the charges. Bail was not requested for the accused who denied the charges.

The guilty men were sentenced to imprisonment: nine months for the adults and seven months for one minor on account of his age.

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