Ongoing detention of asylum seekers for medical reasons is unlawful, NGOs say

The migrants who protested at the Safi barracks a few days ago were asking for freedom because there was no lawful reason for these to be kept there, NGO representative says

The NGOs said that the migrants are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions with no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity
The NGOs said that the migrants are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions with no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity

The ongoing detention of asylum seekers on medical grounds at the Initial Reception Centre and the Safi Barracks is unlawful, a number of NGOs have said.

In a statement on Friday, a group of 34 NGOs said that national law allows the health authorities to restrict an individual's movement for medical treatment for a period not exceeding four weeks, which may be exceptionally extended for up to ten weeks for the purpose of finalising any tests that may be necessary.

"The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that in order to be considered lawful, detention must always be justified on an individual basis, implemented in good faith, and used only for as long as strictly necessary. At this point, there are asylum seekers who have been deprived of their liberty on the pretext of health checks – consisting essentially of a single test to screen for active TB – for periods ranging from a few days to 13 weeks from disembarkation," the statement read.

The NGOs were referring to the migrants who disembarked in Malta for reallocation since May as part of an agreement the Maltese government reached with the European Commission and other EU member states.

Maltese lawyer and director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malta, Katrine Camilleri, told MaltaToday that some of these migrants have been waiting at the detention centre since May. 

"We have made our concerns clear with the government. The migrants who protested at the Safi barracks two days ago were asking for freedom because there was no lawful reason for these to be kept there," she said, adding that the conditions at the detention centre left much to be desired.

READ ALSO: Police called in to Safi detention centre to control migrant protest

The NGOs claim that several hundred migrants, some of them children, have been detained for eight weeks or more.

"Possibly worse is the fact that no one has told them for how long they will be detained and that there are no accessible effective remedies to challenge their detention. That they are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions, with almost no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity, hardly any contact with the outside world, limited access to open air, and a severe shortage of basic material necessities, makes their detention even harder to bear," the statement read.

The NGOs concede that the authorities might have their work cut out for them with such a large number of arrivals being placed in Malta's reception system and with constrained resources at their disposal but that this should not justify the migrants' deprivation of liberty.

"In view of this we are calling on the government to ensure that all of the people currently being held on medical grounds are immediately released, unless their detention is clearly and objectively justified on health grounds in the individual case. We are also calling on the government to allocate the resources necessary to strengthen our reception system and create sufficient reception spaces for asylum seekers to be hosted in accordance with Malta’s legal obligations," the NGOs said.

They added that the staff of state frontline migration and reception agencies have gone way beyond the call of duty, in spite of the limited resources at their disposal, to provide services and support to new arrivals and that while this is appreciated the reception system must be upgraded as soon as possible. 

The statement was endorsed by: Aditus Foundation, African Media Association Malta, Agara Foundation, Catholic Voices, Christian Life Communities, Cross Culture International Foundation, Dar tal-Providenza, Department of Gender Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta, Drachma, Drachma Parents’ Group, Fondazzjoni Sebh, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Fundazzjoni Paci u Gid, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta, Jesuits in Malta, Kopin, Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci, Malta Emigrants Commission, Moviment Graffiti, Office of the Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Paolo Freire Institute, Richmond Foundation, Salesians of Don Bosco, Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, Solidarity with Migrants Group, SOS Malta, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, The Critical Institute, Women’s Rights Foundation, and Youth Alive Foundation.

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