Access to detention facilities

Malta

Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 19/05/21

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Legislation provides for the possibility for detainees to receive visits from family members and friends up to once per week. The Detention Service administration shall determine dates and times once the Principal Immigration Officer (PIO) approves such visits.[1]

In practice, the possibility for family members and friends to visit detainees remains very difficult and totally discretionary as people need to request permission to the Detention Service administration which does not always reply and grant appointments. When authorisation is granted, lack of privacy for visits remains an issue.[2] Therefore, no formal procedures exist for friends and family members to visit detained persons and practice is erratic and largely discretionary. When such visits are allowed, logistical modalities are also extremely erratic and discretionary with no clear procedures and rules. In 2020, such visits were not allowed.

Representatives of the media may be given access to Detention Centres subject to authorisation by the Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement. However, no journalist was allowed to enter the premises in 2020. Times of Malta and independent journalists reported that its journalists have been repeatedly denied access to Safi detention centre.[3]

There is no published policy position regarding visits by politicians, but politicians have visited the detention centres on occasion.

UNHCR, legal advisers and NGOs were usually allowed access at any time in order for them to provide their services to detained persons. No specific criteria applied, except possibly the provision of services or support to detained asylum seekers.  Persons in detention centres encounter difficulties communicating with legal advisers, UNHCR, and NGOs primarily due to the fact that little or no information is provided on the existence and means of contacting these entities, and actual contact is only possible to a limited extent and due to the limited means available to NGOs and UNHCR.

However, following the change in the detention policy and the tensions within the detention centre, access to detention was limited at times during 2019 and 2020.

For instance, access was revoked after some NGOs filed Habeas Corpus cases leading to the release of several applicants in October 2019. Access was denied to NGOs for several weeks without any explanation before being resumed. Access was suspended in March 2020, when the pandemic first reached Malta. It was then authorised in July for a very limited 3 hours a week.[4]

In September 2020, access was denied again for several weeks without any explanation. It was restored again in October 2020.

At the time of writing, the new Detention Services Director committed to granting full access to NGOs. In practice, regular visits are somewhat problematic due to logistical challenges.

A lack of or restricted access for NGOs results in the absence of basic information on the asylum procedure, as well as information on the available legal support for detainees. The backlog of asylum applications, confirmed by the International Protection Agency, leaves applicants in limbo without access to basic services, according to these NGOs.[5]

Moreover, the authorities are limiting the possibility for NGOs to provide information to large groups of people. Lawyers or social workers are only allowed to meet with specific clients but cannot provide information sessions within Safi and Lyster detention centres. This situation is highly problematic as NGOs have limited resources and cannot provide information to all the persons in need on an individual basis. The conditions to meet asylum-seekers in detention are particularly challenging as lawyers meet individuals in bare containers not equipped with furniture.

The CPT report confirms that the migrants they met were never provided with information about contact details of NGOs, consular assistance, lawyers, or UNHCR. They noted that, for example, at Safi Detention Centre, only one visit from a lawyer was recorded between June and September 2020 and none between March to June 2020 at Warehouse 2 (one of the premises of the detention centre and hosting hundreds of detainees).

 

[1] Regulation 6A Reception Regulations.

[2] Information provided by KatrineCamilleri, Director of JRS Malta, January 2017.

[3] Times of Malta, ‘UN slams “shocking” conditions for migrants in Malta’, 2 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2NHS4qb; Malta Today, ‘Manuel Delia demands access to detention centres, prison’, 21 February 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2NHSeOj.

[4] Times of Malta, ‘NGOs denied access to Safi migrant centre since August’, 11 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tFmgBm.

[5] FRA, ‘Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns, Quarterly Bulletin, Nov 2020’, available at: https://bit.ly/3cblrdC.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation