Watchdog highlights desultory conditions of detained migrants

A national monitoring committee overseeing the health and housing conditions of detained migrants has called for an immediate overhaul of two Ħal Far detention centre blocks

A national monitoring committee overseeing the health and housing conditions of detained migrants has called for an immediate overhaul of two Ħal Far detention centre blocks.

The Monitoring Board for Detained Persons said the Ħal Far ‘block A’ building and the nearby ‘China House’ block were built over 50 years ago and required an immediate overhaul.

The board, which is chaired by lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, called for the appointment of an architect to inspect and report on urgent works needed to safeguard the safety of detained persons.

The observations were made in a report on the 2021 inspections of detention centres, tabled in the House of Representatives earlier this week, which are mandatory requirements under Malta’s adherence with the Council of Europe’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As in previous reports, the Board reiterated various measures aimed at improving the quality of life of detained persons and the detention services. These included giving detained asylum seekers access to lawyers and a list of NGOs to understand their legal rights, from the very out set of deprivation of their liberty. This also includes a list of interpreters for detainees, and incentives to custodial staff to learn specific languages regularly present at the centres.

The board said a record should be maintained of any request by a person detained to see his lawyer, and whether such a request was granted, with a waiver of the right to legal assistance to be signed by the detainee if they do not wish to exercise their right of access to a lawyer.

The board also called for steps to ensure adequate access to dentistry, psychiatric care and psychological assistance for all incoming detainees.

The board insisted that custodial staff should be trained to provide first aid which will include the application of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) whenever the nurse is not present. “It is recommended that the recurrent training is to all custodial staff and nursing staff on social, social health and customer care including a clear message that on use of excessive force and any verbal abuse as well as any form of disrespectful or provocative behaviour will not be tolerated.”

The board said that detainees must be able to spend several hours per day outside more than the minimum requirements so that they would engage in purposeful activities, as well as a designated area for sports and training with suitable equipment.

“Authorities should extend the possibilities for contact with the outside world, in particular for those who are being detained for prolonged periods. This could be done by allowing them to use VolP technologies on a free of charge bases to communicate with the outside world.”

The board has repeatedly recommended the setting up of a computer room, equipped with a number of computers and monitored by detention staff. “Such uses of computers are used in other countries detention centres. There are clear benefits in providing an opportunity for detainees to further their education during the period of detention, and to have other means of entertainment besides television.”

The board also called for charities and NGOs to be able to provide detainees with schemes that allow them to perform duties beneficial to them from an educational, vocational and financial point of view.

With detainees forced to hang clothes on mattresses in a yard or against windows, the board said the Detention Services Unit should avoid such shabbiness by giving detainees fire-resistant and easy-clean mattresses and encourage detainees to wash their linen regularly. The board said there was no proper clothes drying facilities.

It also said the refusal of asylum status should not be notified to all detainees at the same time. “They should be informed of the interview outcome individually and privately and in humanitarian professional manner. Staggering such bad news may mitigate the upheaval caused at the Centre when all the detainees are given the result of a refusal on the same day. The Board welcomes the plan to involve social workers to do this task and to help detainees whenever it is needed.”