Lack of privacy inside detention centres, monitoring board finds

Report finds detainees using blankets to delineate their private space instead of covering themselves at night, and calls for migrants to be allowed personal mobile phones to communicate with relatives

An annual report by a monitoring board on conditions inside detention centres found no signs of ill treatment but denounced the lack of privacy faced by detainees, who are forced to use blankets as curtains to delineate their private space.

Moreover, the main complaint of residents inside the Safi detention centre for asylum seekers remains the quality and variety of the food offered to them, according to the Monitoring Board of Detained Persons annual report for 2018 shows.

The board, chaired by former Labour MP Luciano Busuttil, visited the persons detained at the Safi Detention Centre 47 times, speaking to practically all people held in detention.

The report throws a light on the plight of a detained Chinese woman who cannot communicate with anyone due to the lack of translators.

The report recommended that to facilitate the communication between the detainees and staff a list of contracted translators should be provided at the detention centre. “As at to-date we are finding it extremely difficult to communicate with one Chinese detainee who is currently being detained alone, since she is the only female there. This detainee does not understand English and both staff and board members fail to understand the Chinese language.”

The board also denounced the absence of an alarm system in the area housing detained persons, which had been already noted in its annual report for 2017. “The only manner in which detained persons and members of the board visiting the centre can alert the detention personnel on duty, is by shouting and banging on the iron door.”

According to the board’s annual report for 2018, the relatively small number of persons detained in the Safi barracks and “the positive attitude of the majority of the staff” has contributed to “the improvement in the atmosphere at the detention centre”.

“Overall, the detainees appear calm and quite relaxed with the officers in charge. When interviewed, they rarely or practically never complain about ill-treatment,” the report said.

Most complaints made to the committee were related to the length of their detention, the telephone system and inadequate clothing in the colder months.

Despite what it described as an improvement in the quality of food during 2018 “the vast majority of complaints” made by inmates still concerned the variety of the food offered to them.

Board members were at times shown small aluminium containers containing pasta which had been thrown away unopened due to it being “inedible”.

In last year’s annual report, the board had noted improvements in the quality of the food after the menu at the detention centre was changed. “Following this meeting, for a period of time, there were no complaints regarding the quality of the food,” had said.

In its report the board called for greater respect for the privacy of detainees. Noting that being “deprived of one’s freedom of movement is already a very severe measure”, it called for the installation of cubicles or other separators between beds, “thereby respecting the dignity and privacy of detainees.”

It noted that detainees are resorting to the use of a blanket to separate their bed area from that of others. “Such arrangements make the place look very shabby, and leaves detainees with only one blanket to cover themselves at night; we recommend that proper curtains to cover individual beds thus give more privacy to the detainee”.

It also called for a designated area with facilities for sports and training, including suitable equipment as well as a multi-faith prayer room.
The board has recommended that detainees should be allowed to use their personal mobile phones to enable them to contact their family members or friends abroad.

Compared to previous years when detention centres accommodated hundreds of persons at a time, the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 were described as “relatively calm”.

Such periods of low activity should be utilised for the continuation of specialised training of the detention staff and the ongoing maintenance of detention facilities, the board said. “During such periods it is easier to carry out upgrading works. Since the building was built as barracks almost half a century ago, it requires a good refurbishment programme.”

With this consideration in mind the board called for the appointment of an architect to inspect and report on the urgent works that need to be carried out to safeguard the safety requirements of detained persons.

During the year 2018, a total of 168 persons spent time at the Safi Detention Centre. These migrants hailed from 34 different countries. The largest number of detained persons hailed from Serbia.

At the end of 2018, four detainees had spent between 240 and 446 days in the detention centre.

The Monitoring Board for Detained Persons was established in 2007 “to act as the body of persons responsible for a National Preventive Mechanism for the prevention of torture, as provided for in the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention.” The regulations provide that the board shall “satisfy itself as to the treatment of detainees, the state of detention centres premises and the administration of the detention centres”.

The board chaired by Luciano Busuttil also includes Chev. Alfred Abela, Angela Azzopardi and Yovanca Barbara as members.

Nationality of detained persons in 2018

Country Entered in 2018 Left in 2018
Serbia 22 22
Bangladesh 15 15
Moldova 13 13
China 11 10
Libya 9 11
Macedonia 8 8