Migrant children being held in detention – Commissioner for Children

Commissioner for Children apprehensive about irregular migrant children who are currently held in detention.

Photo: Justin Gatt
Photo: Justin Gatt

Commissioner for Children Helen D'Amato has expressed concern over irregular migrant children who are granted the right to seek asylum in Malta but which were kept at detention centres.

Although Malta has a policy of non-detention of migrant children or migrant families with children, the reality is that children are kept in detention pending the outcome or completion of administrative procedures and medical clearances, which can take several days.

In a letter sent to Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia, D'Amato said at present there were four families in detention with the children's age varying between 3 months and 7 years as well as a number of unaccompanied minors.   

"While Detention Services are doing their best in the circumstances, detention is intrinsically harmful to children and so the Office requested that the required health checks are speeded up in the best interest of children," the Office for the Commissioner said.

The families with children and the unaccompanied minors cannot be released until health clearance is obtained.

Another issue of concern is that regarding the statelessness of migrant children who are born at sea due to the fact that the sea vessel on which they are born is unregistered.  Together with the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commissioner's Office had already made representations to the Ministry for Justice for an amendment to the law that would allow such children to be registered at the first port of call.

During the latest arrivals, at least one baby was born at sea.

"In the absence of such a registration, the risk of trafficking of children is increased. The Office recently made this same proposal to the Commission for Justice Reform as well as to the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice," it said, adding the proposal was also made to political parties through the Manifesto for Children 2013.

D'Amato insisted that throughout the public debate, the problem of irregular migration was not to be identified with the people who migrate irregularly, a mindset that invariably fuels resentment against migrants, but with the phenomenon of irregular migration and its root causes. "Irregular migrants, including children, should not be seen as problems but should be seen primarily as human beings and holders of rights that Malta is duty-bound to uphold and promote," D'Amato urged.

"The phenomenon of irregular migration is undoubtedly a challenge given its scale relative to the size of our country. However, any solutions that are adopted in respect of this phenomenon can never run afoul of the fundamental and inalienable rights of the children who are the hapless victims of this phenomenon and its complex social and political causes."  

In a separate letter to Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, D'Amato said the adoption of a pushback policy was in violation of the United Nations Convention of Children's Rights - to which Malta is a signatory - which guarantees the right of "a child seeking refugee status....to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance...".

The pushback policy is also in breach of Malta's non-refoulement obligations deriving from international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.

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Stembhet fl-ahhar! Jaqaw inbidel l-gvern?
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Emmanuel Mallia
Ms D'Amato, shall we give them a life of luxury, a dolce vita, so that they will tell more of their friend to come over ??
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Doesn't look like a famished child which we so frequently see on leaflets published by NGOs.
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The migrant children detention policy was inherited from the PN government of which Mrs Damato was an MP. Did she try to persuade her party in government to remove this policy? If yes, could you please quote when she did this? I can see now that there is a renaissance of ideas, for the non-committed people of yore are waking up and criticising. People only dare to this in a healthy democracy. May I add that Dr Muscat did well to retain a nationalist politician as children's commissioner under Labour. Some Nationalists can be valid members of a working, non-populist democracy.
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Emmanuel Mallia
The future: Islamic Malta !
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.....Commissioner for Children Helen D'Amato has expressed concern over irregular migrant children who are granted the right to seek asylum in Malta but which were kept at detention centres.... Can you please answer just one question - Under Your Nationlist Government can you enlighten us what used to happen to the children???
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It is amazing how physically attractive these asylum seekers have become ever since the so called independent media have taken it upon themselves to admonish Joseph...
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I expect a children's commissioner to also spare some more thoughts for the thousands of children of poor Maltese families. She is duty bound to address their suffering too. Better still, she could visit some houses where Maltese children do not have basic needs. Maltese children are children too!!
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It seems that Commissioner for Children has just woke up after a long hibernation, as children coming from irregular migrants have been held in detention with their mothers for quite some time now, we never heard such comments before. What is the option dear commissioner to keep them separated from their natural parents and keep them in homes? Re Nationality issue I do not agree with the Commissioner they should be registered but not as Maltese sorry.
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If I recall correctly Joseph Muscat said that push back remains and he did not commit himself to push backs. The PN and the NGOs including the EU and the UNHCR found something to criticize the Maltese government by and all even the Maltese NGO and 2 PN Meps jumped on the band wagon. They found a way to make excuses to the rest of the world that Malta is being unfair but neglected to point out that these illegal immigrants are putting a huge strain on Malta and the Maltese people. They are telling us that the Maltese people are to sacrifice their livelihoods to accommodate these illegal immigrants. Where are the human rights for the Maltese people. Aren't we entitled to any human rights as a people? How many of these illegal immigrants is Malta supposed to take and hold? Hotel Malta is full and the people are tired of being displaced by others.