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. NGOs encountered large groups of asylum-seekers detained for over 130 days with no documentation confirming or 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.
- 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 Hal 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. The UNHCR reports that 333 migrants were being held in detention in October 2021.
Safi Detention Centre and the temporarily closed Hermes Block (Lyster Barracks) are detention facilities run by the Detention Service, located on an operational bases of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), nearby the International Airport. China House is an additional detention facility run by the Detention Service, with assistance from Malta Red Cross. 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 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.
 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.