Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 10/07/24

The Reception Regulations provide 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]

The Detention Services Regulations provide that detained persons are entitled to visits from, or communications with, authorised persons and representatives of non-governmental organizations, save to the extent necessary in the interests of security or safety.[2] Representatives  of  international  organisations  and  non-governmental organisations have access to detained persons after obtaining the authorisation of the Head Detention Services or the Principal Immigration Officer acting on the advice of the Minister.[3]

The legal adviser or representative of any detained person in any legal proceedings shall be afforded reasonable facilities for interviewing him in confidence, save that any such interview maybe in the sight of an officer.[4]

Religious organizations may request access to detention centres to the Head Detention Service who may grant such access on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Principal Immigration Officer.[5]

The Regulations also provide that all detained persons shall have access to public telephones at the detention centres and that he Head Detention Services may bear the expense of any telephone calls, within reasonable limits, by providing phone cards to all detained persons.[6]


Access to Family Members and Friends

In practice, no formal procedures exist for friends and family members to visit detained persons and practice is erratic and largely discretionary. People need to request permission to the Detention Service administration which does not always reply and grant appointments. 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. No information was provided on the matter for 2021 or 2022.


Access to Journalists

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 were repeatedly denied access to Safi detention centre.[7] In 2020 a prominent blogger and activist filed a court application claiming that the Government’s refusal to grant him access to prison and to detention centres amounted to a violation of his fundamental rights. The case continued in 2022, with the Court rejected attempts by the Ministry to have the case thrown out[8].

In 2021, a journalist went on a controlled visit for the tour of a detention centre, for the first time in 8 years.[9] Lawyers visiting the centre however reported that the journalist’s somewhat positive account of the situation inside contradicted greatly their own experience and the detainees’ testimonies.[10] The journalist reported that detainees had access to health services, that minors were kept apart from adults and that all detainees had access to an outdoor area and telephones to call their relatives. All of these statements were confirmed to be untrue by detainees and lawyers. No similar visits were permitted in 2022.

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


Access to the UNHCR

Together with EUAA accessing detention in order to register asylum applications and conduct first instance interviews, the UNHCR is the only organisation granted access to the Maltese detention centres, since 2021. According to the Government, the UNHCR’s presence in detention is enough to ensure that relevant information on asylum is provided, and that NGO access is not required. Regarding the need for legal assistance, the Government consider that the UNHCR is able to refer applicants to NGOs when necessary and there is no need for NGOs to be present to provide information sessions.

However, UNHCR staff visiting the detention centres reported facing issues in accessing detention during the second half of 2021 where they did not have access to the list of detainees and were not granted access to them. During the first half of 2022, the UNHCR carried only one visit to detention in February due to limited staffing capacity. It only resumed its visits in August and September where it carried out 3 visits. Overall, in 2022 UNHCR met approximately 91 persons for information counselling sessions in detention centres.

Furthermore, and according to the UNHCR itself, only actual applicants can be visited by the Agency. This means that newly-arrived persons, individuals on removal orders or who opted for voluntary return are not provided with information on the asylum procedure unless and until they are registered as applicants. These people are relying entirely on NGOs to provide information to them.

No information on the content of the presentations given by the UNHCR is available.


Access to NGOs and Lawyers

Throughout 2022, only persons providing legal services are granted access to applicants, and with several practical obstacles explained below. As such, access is only viewed within the scope of the lawyer-client relationship and not within the broader aim of information or service provision to detainees irrespectively of whether they are represented by the lawyer of the NGO. JRS Malta reported that its psychologists and social workers are not allowed to provide their services to detainees. Practice shows that the EUAA or the UNHCR does not refer cases to NGOs and the contact details of the NGOs are generally not provided to the detainees, who in any case are likely to be unable to access a working phone.

Lawyers are only allowed to visit named clients, yet are not allowed access to newly-arrived groups or to lists of names in order to identify clients. This means that, in practice, for applicants to have access to legal information and services, NGOs must call regularly each block of the detention centres and request personal information of groups of people over the phone. Police numbers, exact names, detention grounds, and countries of origins have to be continuously registered and updated in order for the lawyers to specify which individual applicants they would like to visit as clients. With this information, generally quite randomised and superficial, NGO lawyers are required to submit a visit request to the Detention Services in order to reserve a slot in the centre board room. NGOs are usually allocated up to four hours, during which the lawyers (accompanied by an interpreter, as needed) are able to talk to between six to eight persons. There are weeks when NGOs visit a detention centre twice, whilst there are times when weeks pass without any slot being allocated.

NGOs repeatedly flagged several limitations with the current system. Each block of the Detention Centres is equipped with a phone which can only receive calls so detainees cannot use it to call lawyers, NGOs, family members, friends or anyone else. Some blocks may have the possibility to ask the guards to access a mobile phone, but this requires to be able to be able to communicate with the guards and NGOs rarely receive calls by this means.

This lack of access is particularly problematic due to the fact that deadlines stipulated in Maltese legislation for the filing of appeals against Detention Orders (3 days), Removal Orders (3 days), age assessment decisions (3 days), and negative asylum decisions (15 days) are extremely stringent and template application forms are not provided in detention. The actual deadlines amount more or less to the actual time needed to get the approval for a visit the following week.

Interferences from the Ministry for Home Affairs or other state entities are recurrent. For instance, access was revoked after NGOs filed Habeas Corpus cases leading to the release of several applicants in October 2019. Complaints were also filed with the Malta Chamber of Advocates. 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.[11] In September 2020, access was denied again for several weeks without any explanation. It was restored again in October 2020. Due to COVID-19, access by NGOs and legal practitioners was strictly limited from March 2020 on, resulting in a lack of basic information on the asylum procedure as well on available legal support provided to applicants. Asylum-seekers were often left in detention for several months without any information on the reason for their detention, and without any access to the outside world.[12]

This policy of heavily restricted access results in the absence of provision of basic information on the asylum procedure, identification of vulnerable persons including persons requiring specialised legal advice/inforamtion relating to theri asylum claims such as LGBTIQ+ applicants and victims of sexual or other forms of violence, information on the available legal support for detainees, or the possibility to appeal decisions within the legal deadlines. Applicants can therefore go through their entire asylum procedure without ever being given any legal advice or information. Most detainees are channelled through the accelerated procedure and are issued with the IPAT review, a removal order and return decision along with their rejection. As stated above, they cannot appeal their first instance decision and they usually would miss the short deadline (3 days) to appeal the removal order, which necessarily needs the intervention of an NGO lawyer or a private lawyer. This lack of procedural safeguards coupled with the lack of communication from Immigration Police regarding removal arrangements means that individuals are at an increased risk of refoulement.




[1] Regulation 6A Reception Regulations.

[2] Regulation 30 of the Detention Service Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.19 of the Laws of Malta.

[3] Regulation 49(2) of the Detention Service Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.19 of the Laws of Malta.

[4] Regulation 34 of the Detention Service Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.19 of the Laws of Malta.

[5]  Regulation 29 of the Detention Service Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.19 of the Laws of Malta.

[6] Regulation 35 of the Detention Service Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.19 of the Laws of Malta.

[7] Times of Malta, ‘UN slams “shocking” conditions for migrants in Malta’, 2 October 2020, available at:; Malta Today, ‘Manuel Delia demands access to detention centres, prison’, 21 February 2020, available at:

[8] The Malta Independent, Constitutional case filed by Manuel Delia over prison visit can continue, judge rules, 2 April 2022, available at:

[9] Times of Malta, Inside the Safi migrant detention centre, 5 July 2021, available at:

[10] Information provided by aditus foundation and JRS Malta, January 2022.

[11] Times of Malta, ‘NGOs denied access to Safi migrant centre since August’, 11 September 2020, available at:

[12] FRA, ‘Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns, Quarterly Bulletin, Nov 2020’, available at:

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