Overall living conditions
According to Regulation 6A of the Reception Regulations, applicants for international protection shall be detained in specialised facilities and they shall be kept separate, insofar as possible, from third country nationals who are not asylum-seekers. They shall also have access to open-air spaces. Separate accommodation for families shall be put in place in order to guarantee adequate privacy as well as separate accommodation for male and female applicants. The policy document published at the end of 2015 following the transposition commits to improve the quality of living conditions in the detention centres. The document foresees that detention facilities shall comprise or have access to a clinic, medical isolation facilities, telephone facilities, an office for the delivery of information by RefCom, rooms for interviews with RefCom and NGOs, facilities for leisure and the delivery of education programmes as well as a place of worship.
The detention centres are managed by the Detention Service (DS), a government body that falls under the Ministry for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement. The DS was set up specifically “to cater for the operation of all closed accommodation centres; provide secure but humane accommodation for detained persons; and maintain a safe and secure environment” within detention centres. The DS is neither established nor regulated by a specific law. It is made up of personnel seconded from the armed forces and civilians specifically recruited for the purpose, many of whom are ex-security personnel. DS staff receive some in-service training, however people recruited for the post of DS officer or seconded from the security services are not required to have particular skills or competencies.
Despite the entry into force of the Regulations in 2015, NGOs visiting detention on a regular basis have not noticed any improvement since the reform. Detention conditions remain very difficult and precarious and have deteriorated greatly in 2018 and 2019 due to overpopulation
Asylum seekers and other third-country nationals, who have over-stayed their visa, are detained in the military barracks, which offer inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, and allow no privacy for the detainees. Whilst detainees are provided with a bed each, there is little space in between the beds and no place where they may store their personal possessions. Detainees are provided with cleaning materials and are expected to take care of the cleaning of the centre. Although detainees are issued with basic items of clothing upon arrival, there is no systematic or consistent practice for the distribution of clothes which are weather-appropriate. Most of the clothing which is provided to detainees is donated on a charitable basis to the detention service management and is then distributed accordingly. Moreover, there is little to no heating or ventilation, exposing migrants to extreme cold and heat. Following a visit in 2015, the CPT stated that, despite better detention conditions mainly due to the very few people detained, no activities were being offered to persons in detention. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who visited Malta in June 2015, also pointed out that the conditions of detention have improved due to the drastic reduction in the number of detainees. However, lack of educational and social programmes but also deficiencies in the availability of legal aid were reported by the Working Group. Finally, the fact that a detention facility for migrants is located in military barracks remains an unsolved issue.
Men are usually detained separately from women, as are families and couples. However, in 2019, it was noticed that some children were detained together with adults due to the fact that detention centres are overcrowded.
Moreover, reading and leisure materials are not systematically provided and detainees rely on NGO staff visiting detention as well as friends and family on the outside to bring them books, magazines and other basic recreational items. Detainees only have access to news and other media through the television set which is in place per centre as no newspapers are ever provided. There are no computers or internet access within the centres.
A lack of interpreters has also been pointed out by the CPT which noticed that another detained person with the necessary language skills was usually requested to act as an interpreter. This situation is inappropriate when used for other but emergency situations. Moreover, the CPT expressed concerns about the lack of information provided to detainees regarding the house rules of the detention facility.
In recent years there have been a number of incidents within the centres which have raised concerns because of allegations of excessive use of force, as well as the lack of any systematic review of DS conduct and of any effective remedies to provide redress wherever abuse or ill-treatment by DS staff is alleged.
The use of excessive force and other questionable forms of punishment remains an issue primarily in contexts such as protests or escapes from detention, when force is used in an attempt to assert control or, at times, to discipline detainees, as is evident from the recent protests in 2019.
As mentioned, the conditions in detention centres in 2019 deteriorated and became extremely challenging with severe overcrowding, insanitary conditions, limited availability of shared toilets and showers and no privacy. Applicants enjoy limited time in the open, or with access to fresh air and sunlight. They also have hardly any contact with the outside world.
This led to several protests by detainees over the course of the year. In September 2019, some migrants scaled fences and set mattresses on fire demanding to be released from detention. Several police and army units were sent on site to stop the protests and several migrants were arrested. Later that month, migrants protested again against their continued detention. They started shouting and demanding to be set free. Migrants held up signs saying “4 months in detention Why?”
In October and December 2019, peaceful protests were also organised sometimes escalating in violent confrontation with detention service staff. Each time, migrants were arrested and immediately taken to Court.
Following these events, 34 NGOs reiterated that the detention of these migrants is unlawful. They raised the fact that some migrants had been kept detained for more than six months when the Health Regulations provide for a restriction of movement up to ten weeks. They explained that migrants were protesting for their freedom since there was no lawful reason for them to be detained. Moreover, NGOs raised the lack of information on how long individuals are to be detained, the lack of accessible effective remedies and the crowded and insanitary conditions in detention.
In January 2020, only a few days after another riot at Safi detention centre, twenty-two migrants were convicted to a nine-month prison sentence for having “insulted and threatened public officials, violently resisting arrest and slightly injuring five detention officers”. They were also accused of “taking part in a rioting mob and failing to disperse when ordered to, conspiracy to commit a crime, voluntary damage, disturbing the peace, disobeying lawful orders, threatening public officers and throwing stones at private property”.
NGOs reacted in a press statement on the “shameful treatment of arrested migrants” by the Malta Police Force. NGOs exposed the way migrants were brought to Court, tied together in pairs and displayed to the general public, contrary to standard practice. They qualified this behaviour as inhumane treatment and prejudicial to the principle of presumption of innocence. Moreover, they emphasised that minors were among the accused and should, therefore, have been awarded specific protections throughout criminal proceedings.
Health care in detention
All detainees are usually seen by a doctor in the first week after their arrival. The services of a doctor are available in the detention centres between two to three mornings a week. However, there is no systematic medical screening in place for every newly arrived detainee, nor is there any screening to identify possible victims of torture. Communication with the health professionals is very often difficult, if not impossible, as the services of a translator or cultural mediator are not provided. In emergencies, the detainees are usually taken to the nearest health centre. Migrants and asylum seekers requiring more specialised care are referred to the general hospital for an appointment.
Practical difficulties arise for asylum seekers who are detained, as the detention system seriously hinders their access to health services. Although health services are provided in the detention centres, these are not sufficient to meet the entirety of needs in the centres. Following a visit in 2015, the CPT stated that there was no systematic medical screening in place for every newly arrived detainee.
NGOs visiting detainees in 2019 reported that migrants face particularly long waiting times, up to several weeks, before having access to a doctor when requested.
The vast majority of applicants are now detained in application of Health Regulations and undergo medical examination which only consists in X-rays to check for tuberculosis.
No other medical examination is carried out. However, even when medically checked and cleared, applicants might not be released since release is decided as and when space is available in reception centres.
 Information provided by Katrine Camilleri, Director of JRS Malta, January 2018.
 Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its follow-up mission to Malta, June 2016.
 CPT, Report to the Maltese Government on the visit to Malta carried out from 3 to 10 September 2015, October 2016.