Sexual predator targeted vulnerable migrant women in Safi

‘Officers refused by the Armed Forces of Malta sent to work as detention services officers,’ former detention services head told 2012 inquiry

File photo
File photo

A 2012 inquiry into the death of Malian asylum seeker Mamadou Kamara, 32, has revealed the extent of the horrific conditions asylum seekers held in detention centres faced and the unimaginable traumatic experiences they were put through.

From a sergeant who used to prey on vulnerable migrant women and another refused by the army because he had usury problems, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Gatt – former head of the detention services – had let everything out during an inquiry conducted by retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia.

This is the first time that the contents of the inquiry, which took place in 2012, are being made public after it was tabled yesterday in parliament by the government.

For years, human rights NGOs had decried the appalling state of the detention services, repeatedly calling on the different administrations to ensure that asylum seekers are effectively protected from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“They used to send me the worst of the worst…soldiers refused by the army,” Gatt had told Valenzia explaining that working at the Detention Services was a sort of punishment for soldiers.

One time, an officer was transferred to the Detention Services because he was deemed as the “worst officer” of the Armed Forces of Malta. After two weeks, he tendered his resignation because he no longer wanted to stay there, dubbing the DS “a punishment unit”.

“I asked for a replacement and they decided to send an officer who had been charged with shooting at a yacht during training. I rushed to Luqa barracks asking whether they were in their right mind. How could they send me someone with a criminal record when we just had the incident of that migrant?” Gatt said, referring to the death of Infeanyi Nwokoye in 2011.

“Another example: I had a sergeant in Hal Far who used to prey on migrant women, entering their rooms during the night and taking a woman back to his office with him. Even condoms were found in the room.”

This sergeant was never suspended but simply transferred to another section. Four years later he was returned to the DS.

Gatt told the inquiry that once they had sent him “a good” officer, only to be replaced six months later by another who had usury problems.

“They didn’t want him because he was involved usury and he was being chased by people who wanted their money back. Once he took the driver out with him during the night, only to be stopped by armed people.

“What I’m trying to say here is that nothing will ever be achieved with these type of people working at the detention services. We have to change the people and the structure if we want things to change around here.”

Human rights NGOs who spoke to Valenzia as part of the inquiry said the system “dehumanised migrants”.

“They’re not treated as humans but treated as illegal object that have no rights and no access to procedures. They’re just waiting for something to happen to them. The system creates an environment of animosity between them and the staff. […] this dehumanising process and everyone feels abandoned and being criticised by everyone and the only persons they can vent their frustration on is each other, and this leads to violence, racial abuse, harassment, vulgar language, xenophobia and sadly this incident of a few weeks ago.”

Neil Falzon, of aditus, had opined with the inquiring judge that Kamara’s death was “the result of a number of problems and accumulation of years and years of stress on the system which collapsed”.

Mamadou Kamara, the inquiry revealed, died from a heart attack caused by severe pain as a result of blunt trauma: according to forensic expert Mario Scerri, Kamara was kicked into the groin.

“[…]It was not easy to hit him. A blow on the testis can cause a sudden death. The death can be instant. Death was caused by vagal inhibition due to severe pain followed by blunt trauma. We also found that when we saw the scenario that this person was dead when he was put in the van. Probably he was already dead. His stomach was full of food. He had eaten with half an hour of his death. If he was running, if he was on the run, he couldn’t have eaten. There was food in the stomach. It was very slightly digested. It was recent. One of the lungs had haemorrhage at the base which corresponds to the blows and there were petechiae on the surface.

“[…]His heart was strong. He was in great pain when he died. […] Severe pain is a known cause of cardiac arrest.”

When Kamara escaped and was later recaptured, he was placed in a steel cage at the back of a detention centre van where he was brutally beaten, suffered a heart attack and died. Not only had the detention service officers killed the man but they also broke protocol when they sat inside the cage with him while he was being transported, handcuffed and lying on the floor, to the health centre.

The inquiry had revealed that the detention services was severely understaffed, especially when it came to female officers stationed with migrant women. At the time, there was only one female detention service officer. This meant that male officers would walk straight onto female migrants taking a shower for the head count; male officers would accompany pregnant women to hospital at times even staying with them while they were being examined by the doctor.

The inquiry found that there was “a kind of inappropriate relationship going on between some members of staff and migrant women being detained. It could have been consensual but given the context, you question this consent…how real it is… because they are detained and there is a soldier-detainee relationship which renders the relationship inappropriate”.

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