Alternatives to detention


Country Report: Alternatives to detention Last updated: 21/09/23

According to the Reception Regulations, when a detention order of an asylum seeker is not taken, alternatives to detention may be applied for non-vulnerable applicants when the risk of absconding still exists.[1] These alternatives to detention foreseen in the Regulations are the same as the ones listed in the Directive, namely the possibility to report to a police station, to reside at an assigned place, to deposit or surrender documents or to place a one-time guarantee or surety. These measures would not exceed nine months.[2]

Following the transposition of the recast Reception Conditions Directive, concerns were expressed by NGOs that alternatives to detention could be imposed when no ground for detention is found to exist.[3] The wording of the legislation seem to imply that alternatives to detention may apply in all those cases where detention is not resorted to, including those cases where there are no grounds for the detention of the asylum seeker. This goes against the letter and the spirit of the Directive where alternatives to detention should only be applied in those cases where there are grounds for detention.

Practice shows most asylum seekers released from detention are imposed “alternatives to detention” arrangements, even though there was never any ground to detain them in the first place. They are usually provided with a document in English stating the obligations and the grounds at law for ordering the alternatives to detention. According to this document, the alternatives to detention can be imposed for a maximum period of 9 months. This means that in practice asylum seekers could be detained for the maximum period of 9 months prescribed in the law and then issued with alternatives to detention for 9 more months. It is unclear whether legal challenges on the nature and duration of alternatives to detention actually exist in law or in practice.

According to the authorities, 648 asylum seekers were released from detention and placed under alternatives to detention (ATD) in 2021. They were requested to reside at an assigned place, to notify the Principal Immigration in case of change of residence and to sign at the Police Headquarters in Floriana once every week.[4]

NGOs reported that there is no clear pattern on the reason, when and why alternatives to detention are applied to asylum seekers. However, it transpires very clearly from the policy that alternatives to detention are seen by the authorities not as an alternative, but as a natural continuation of the status post-detention, with said detention often being ordered without legal basis.

Following release from detention, applicants often face difficulties in retrieving their possessions that are confiscated by the Immigration Police following their arrival. These possessions may include money, jewellery, and mobile phones. Applicants are often required to rely on the intervention of NGOs to reclaim their possessions, at time months after their release from detention. The Police will inform that an investigation is conducted following every boat arrival, and that possessions can only be retrieved at the end of the said investigation, which can take more than a year.

Asylum-seekers are never informed or requested to consent that their phones and personal belongings will be searched and investigated and are never informed when items are ready for collection.




[1] Strategy Document, November 2015, 26.

[2] Regulation 6(8) of the Reception Regulations, Subsidiary Legislation 420.06 of the Laws of Malta.

[3] aditus foundation, et al., NGO Input on the Draft Strategy Document: Strategy for the Reception of Asylum-Seekers and Irregular Migrants, November 2015; available at:

[4] Information provided by Immigration Office of Malta Police Force, January 2022.

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