The Places of Detention Regulations provide for a list of the places to be used for the purpose of immigration detention by way of a Schedule, which can be amended on the decision of the Minister for Home Affairs. In practice, the current list has not been amended since 2002 and includes, among a few others, the lock-up at the Police Headquarters at Floriana, the approved place of police custody at the Malta International Airport, the approved place of police custody at the Seaport of Valletta, the Lyster Barracks, the Ħal Far Immigration Reception Centre (HIRC) and the Safi Barracks.
At the time of writing Malta operates three detention centres:
- Safi, where the detained population is mainly composed of men (including unaccompanied minors pending their age assessment procedure). Asylum-seekers are detained automatically upon arrival, in the vast majority of cases with no documentation ordering their detention. Migrants pending removal are also detained at Safi;
- Marsa Initial Reception Centre (IRC), based in an old school, where the detained population is largely composed of family units and men. It is not formally categorised as a detention centre, since a section within the centre is open and allows the residents’ free entry and exit. However, there is also a closed component to the IRC where persons are effectively deprived of their liberty. Their number is unknown.
- The Ħal Far Initial Reception Centre (HIRC), commonly referred to as “China House”, set-up in March 2020 in order to cope with the large number of migrant arrivals and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is located in Ħal Far and used mainly to detain newly arrived asylum seekers under quarantine until they are medically cleared by the Health Authorities.
No official data is available, but the capacity of detention has been increased regularly since 2018 to accommodate the new policy of systematic and automatic detention.
Safi Detention Centre and the temporarily closed Hermes Block (Lyster Barracks) are detention facilities run by the Detention Services, located on operational bases of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), nearby the International Airport. The HIRC or “China House” is an additional detention facility run by the Detention Services. At the time of the CPT’s visit, the Safi Detention Centre was accommodating close to a 1000 people, while Lyster was holding 350 migrants. China House supposedly had a capacity of approximately 350 people in 2020.
A section of the Initial Reception Centre in Marsa became a de facto detention centre in 2018 when the authorities decided to automatically detain all asylum seekers arriving irregularly in Malta. The IRC is not formally categorised as a detention centre, since a section within the centre is open and allows the residents’ free entry and exit. However, there is also a closed component to the IRC where persons are effectively deprived of their liberty.
AWAS indicated that in 2020, the closed section of the IRC represents around 10% of the centre and is used to accommodate disembarked families for the necessary checks before accommodating them in reception centres. However, the CPT noted in their report that at the time of their visit in 2020, that the centre was mostly closed and accommodated 350 migrants, detaining families, UAMs, women and pregnant women, and persons with disabilities waiting to be transferred to an open centre but also those awaiting medical clearance and those tested positive with COVID-19.
According to NGOs, the Marsa IRC is still used as detention facilities for families and children pending their medical clearance under the Prevention of Disease Ordinance. They also reported that asylum seekers who arrive regularly by plane and are not from countries of origin where removals are feasible would also be detained pending the medical clearance. Considering the very low number of arrivals of families and young children, the detention is likely to last a couple of days only.
 Schedule (Article 2) of the Places of Detention Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 217.03 of the Laws of Malta.
 Article 34 (1) of the Immigration Act, Chapter 217 of the Laws of Malta.
 CPT, Report to the Maltese Government on the visit to Malta carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment from 17 to 22 September 2020, March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3mPtelf.