NGOs say children should not be detained 'not even for a few days'

NGOs say many migrant children are detained for months, without any provision for special care, education, protection or support

Eight human rights NGOs welcomed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s promise to put an end to child detention, but pointed out that Malta’s national policy on migration and asylum already clearly states that children should not be detained, children reaching Malta by boat are in fact detained on arrival.

Yesterday, in a speech marking Freedom Day, Muscat said that government is planning to take migrant children out of detention.

“In some cases it is for a few days, but in many other cases children are detained for months, without any provision for special care, education, protection or support, including while a decision is taken regarding their claim to minor age in the case of unaccompanied or separated children.”

The NGOs said that most of these minors were children who were forced to flee their homes with their families or alone due to war or persecution, living through experiences no child should go through.

“We believe that children should never be detained, even for a few days. We have therefore consistently advocated for Malta to bring its laws and policies in line with international and EU standards by putting an immediate end to child detention and setting up proper facilities for the reception of children.”

The statement added that Muscat’s commitment is an important first step in the process to revise the current reception regime to provide the appropriate shelter, care and on-going support to children reaching Malta.

While hoping that government is willingness to actively engage with the NGOs to reform its asylum policy, they urged government to ensure that “in all circumstances, the best interest of the child remains the over-riding priority.”

The statement was signed by aditus foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Migrant’s Network for Equality, SOS Malta, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, KOPIN, Integra Foundation, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity and The People for Change Foundation.

However, in a separate statement, the opposition accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of “trying to take NGOs and the people for a ride” by claiming that child migrants will no longer be detained.

Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg said that “consensus already exists on the issue and in the previous legislature, government introduced a policy not to keep migrant children in detention centres except for initial medical tests.”

Buttigieg added that the current home affairs minister Manuel Mallia had publicly stated that children will not be kept in detention.

While welcoming the Prime Minister’s new stance, “following tough comments he had directed towards irregular migrants in recent months,” the MP called on Muscat not to take NGOs and the people “for a ride especially over such delicate matters.”

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