Safi protests - ‘Legitimate to protest but violence never acceptable’, UNHCR

United Nations High Commission for Refugees says Safi detention centre uprising “not entirely surprising"

The UNHCR was reacting to protests that took place on Monday, believed to have been prompted the failed appeals on rejected asylum claims for 271 detainees before their 12-month detention was up, automatically extending their detention now to 18 months.

15 police officers and three soldiers were slightly injured during the riot. One detainee was also slightly injured.

The refugee agency said that frustration inside the centre was increasing as several hundred asylum seekers are held behind bars in poor conditions. "Many of them have already gone through very traumatic experiences before coming to Malta," a UNHCR spokesperson said.

“In view of the way the screening system works in Malta UNHCR is particularly concerned that among those held in detention there could be minors who have not yet had their age assessments finalised,” the agency said.

The agency noted the “very strong reaction from the authorities to this incident” and expressed hopes that no serious injuries were suffered by the detainees or those working at the centre.

“While all the asylum seekers held in Safi have the right to have their claims assessed, it is also clear that for some the option to return to their countries of origin will have to be considered,” the UNHCR spokesperson said, referring to the failed appeals on rejected asylum claims which are believed to have prompted the protest.

UNHCR also stressed it is ready to work with the Maltese authorities and the International Organisation for Migration to ensure that all available options are explored.

Asked by MaltaToday whether it considers the conditions within the centre adequate, the refugee agency said that it is in principle against the detention of asylum seekers. “We do not consider it appropriate for any country to detain all asylum seekers who arrive without documents."

While conceding that governments have legitimate reasons to undertake screening and control of people who enter the country, the agency said “there are alternative ways to address these objectives.”

It also said that the living conditions for asylum-seekers vary according to the centre where they are held, adding that while the Lyster Barracks facilities were recently refurbished, Safi Barracks is plagued with hygiene and health problems, and overcrowding issues..

“This is particularly the case at the Warehouse 1 facility where the protest took place,” the agency said.

It called on authorities to continue improving the living conditions for asylum-seekers in Malta.