Migrant detention centres exempt from planning rules

The army has been effectively exempted from the planning regime when seeking permits to develop detention centres and other reception facilities for migrants.

Malta's policy of mandatory detention for irregular migrants for a maximum period of 18 months results in overcrowding in these facilities whenever the country is faced by an increasing influx of migrants.

But the government seems to have found a way to deal with emergencies by granting itself powers to override planning obstacles to build new facilities.

Under the new rules, the home affairs minister can declare that a development related to migration matters "is urgently required for humanitarian, security or other relevant" reasons, allowing the army to bypass planning regulations and proceed with construction work.

The new law amends the rules for development notification orders (DNO), a simplified planning procedure initially foreseen for small-scale developments like traffic lights and internal alterations in homes. Such development does not require the preparation of a case officer report.

Developments "relating to migration matters" has now been introduced as a new category for DNOs, and applies to any entity responsible for the provision of reception services for asylum seekers.

But the Armed Forces of Malta, which house the Detention Services Unit, will not even need a DNO when a development is justified by "security" and "humanitarian" reasons.

The only condition imposed is whether the development takes place on scheduled property like historical buildings or Natura 2000 sites, warranting the minister to obtain the clearance of the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage and MEPA, as the authority responsible for environmental protection.

Similar powers to override environmental regulations were already given to the AFM in September 2013, which now does not require a DNO for a development justified by "national security reasons".

National ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino had revealed in his annual report that the Hal Far migrants' open centre was not even covered by a MEPA permit.

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Solve the problem. Send them all back like Sweden did to us.