Duration of detention


Country Report: Duration of detention Last updated: 23/05/22


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National law specifies a time limit for the detention of asylum seekers, which is limited to nine months. According to the Reception Regulations “any person detained in accordance with these regulations shall, on the lapse of nine months, be released from detention if he is still an applicant”.[1]

In the past, applicants formally detained in line with the grounds of the Reception Conditions Directive were usually released after two or three months and placed under alternatives to detention. However, this policy changed since 2020,  as most asylum-seekers detained under the RCD were those applicants coming from countries where returns are being carried out by Malta, including listed safe countries of origin such as Bangladesh, Ghana, Egypt or Morocco. Those were no longer released after the mandatory period of time. They remained in detention until their case was processed through the accelerated procedure since considered manifestly unfounded. In most cases seen by lawyers, these applicants ended up receiving their rejection from IPA, followed almost immediately by the automatic review from the IPAT, the removal order, and return decision. Therefore, they remain in detention awaiting potential return. As of 2021, people coming from Ivory Coast and Nigeria are also kept in detention, seemingly because as they are considered as more easily returned to their countries of origin.

Applicants detained under the Health Regulations and de facto detainees are kept in detention until there is space available in open centres. Therefore, applicants may remain in detention for several months even though they have been medically cleared and no valid grounds for their detention remains, or ever even existed.

The Immigration Police officially indicated that the average duration of detention for asylum-seekers is 65 days.[2] It is accurate only at the condition of following the PIO’s position that only individuals issued with a detention order are to be considered as detained by the Immigration Police. As such, people de facto detained or detained under the health regulations (which will be the case for alleged minors or other vulnerable individuals) are not accounted for by the PIO. Moreover, the PIO as well as the IAB count the duration of detention from the date of the detention order and does not take into account the significant period of time spent in de fact detention prior to that.

Numerous reports by the CPT, NGOs, and lawyers assisting asylum seekers in detention mention that the duration of detention is much higher than the one reported by the PIO. In 2020, a UNHCR Representative also indicated that if “the length of time asylum seekers spent in detention varied in 2020, but many had been detained eight months or longer”.[3] This remains accurate in 2021.




[1] Regulation 6(7) Reception Regulations.

[2] Information provided by the Immigration Office of the Malta Police Force, February 2021.

[3] Times of Malta, ‘Migrant detention numbers shrink, fears about child detainees remain’, 7 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2NJkd00.  

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