Conditions in the open centres vary greatly from one centre to another. In general, the centres provide sleeping quarters either in the form of rooms housing between four (the centres for unaccompanied children) to 24 people (Initial Reception Centre), or mobile metal containers sleeping up to eight persons per container (Ħal-Far Hangar Open Centre [HOC], and Ħal Far Tent Village [HTV]). Small common cooking areas are provided but already made meals are provided three times a day to all residents. Such areas were closed due to COVID-19 in 2020. In 2021, a cooking area was re-opened in the families’ section of Hangar Open Centre. However, actors are not aware that such an area was opened in the men’s section, or in Hal Far Tent Village. Common showers and toilets are also available.
Despite the large numbers of residents, the majority of open centres are run by small teams that are responsible for the centres’ daily management and for the provision of information and support to residents. Individuals are also referred to AWAS’ social welfare team as necessary.
Around 200 AWAS staff are currently working in several reception centres, which represents a significant increase compared to past years.
According to the authorities, AWAS significantly increased its capacity by putting in place two coordinators in each centre, one being in charge of the welfare of residents. In the first quarter of 2021, 4 Welfare officers were recruited to follow the health care of vulnerable clients in tandem with Social Workers. These Welfare Officers operate in Centre Hotspots. Medical Doctors contracted by AWAS, started operating in the 1st quarter of 2021 and provide their services in the IRC, and the main Open Centres. AWAS also established a Migrant Advise Unit in order to provide information to residents. EASO indicated to be supporting this initiative by providing information material and interpreters. AWAS indicated that there is now an info point available in each centre (with interpreters) for people to go either by appointment or drop-in. AWAS reported that a total of 2947 information sessions were delivered by Migrants Advice Unit in 2021. 2021 was a pilot year for this team and the services provided seem to be in the process of developing. Actors in the field confirmed that each centre disposes of an information point, with a welfare officer and interpreters regularly present.
Despite this increased presence, most residents still report lack of information and access to services. They are accommodated in the centres after months spent in detention and are usually in need of assistance
AWAS reported having improved the conditions in AWAS centres throughout 2020, by increasing its capacity and setting up a quality assurance department, introducing Internet access in all AWAS centres, and initiating two pilot community projects. In 2021, actors in the field confirmed that internet access is available in all centres, through residents complain that in some of them access points are inconveniently placed.
Despite these improvements, the living conditions in the open centres remain extremely challenging, save for a few exceptions. For example, among the issues most frequently registered are: poor hygiene levels; severe over-crowding; a lack of physical security; the location of most centres in remote areas of Malta; poor material structures; and the occasional infestation of rats and cockroaches are the main general concerns expressed in relation to the open centres. According to NGOs regularly visiting the centres, the situation has not improved in recent years and the living conditions in the reception centres remained deplorable in 2020, especially in the Ħal Far centres. Sanitary facilities are run down and quickly become unsanitary due to the number of people. Cabins are very cold in winter and very hot in the summer. Residents are not allowed to have fridges in their cabin or cook their own food (except in HOC), which often leads to intense frustration. Food is provided daily, but residents often mention its poor quality and lack of variety. In 2021, conditions improved slightly with the reintroduction of cooking facilities in HOC, and the opening of the classroom in the minors’ section of HTV. However, cabins remain poorly insulated and sanitary facilities have not increased. As already mentioned, severe over-crowding was no longer an issue in 2021.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited the Ħal Far Open Centre in 2015 and expressed concerns about the situation in the prefabricated container housing units. It is reported that residents are suffering uncomfortable living conditions, given inadequate ventilation and high temperatures in the summer months and inadequate insulation from cold temperatures in the winter, in addition to the overcrowded conditions in each unit. Little has changed in the years since this visit.
The majority of centres offer limited options for activities for residents and it is largely NGOs providing certain activities, such as free language classes in English or Maltese. A positive development has been the refurbishment of spaces for this purpose in the open centres. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, such classes are difficult to organise. According to the Maltese NGO Kopin, which provides services in reception centres, parents had not received enough information about COVID-19-related restrictions and online teaching material. Due to a lack of volunteers, recreational activities run by NGOs for children were stopped. AWAS indicated that the Agency offers social, psychosocial, and mental health support upon request. The Agency also indicated working with JobPlus to offer basic English or Maltese courses in view of employment. It was also mentioned that music sessions and barber sessions are being organised as well as crafts for children and football in Marsa. Actors in the field confirmed that a number of recreational activities were organised by AWAS and NGOs in 2021, although the pandemic remained a serious obstacle to sustain these efforts. Notwithstanding, an effort to increase the number of recreational activities in open centres was noted.
Recreational areas for UMAS have been upgraded. In 2022, AWAS should also be upgrading a space in Hangar Open Centre to be use for recreational/education purposes. The aim is to have parts of the common rooms set up with recreational games, where residents can spend some time playing games from the varied collection received during the festive season, collectively and equally.
In January 2021, the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights published the report following her visit in October 2021. The report stated, when describing both the “Hal Far Tent Village” and “Hangar Open Centre”, that “accommodation was provided in containers which appeared overcrowded and lacked air conditioning and heating. While the premises were clean, there was a lack of adequate hygiene conditions for residents, including as regards access to water and sanitation. Work was under way in the “Hangar”, however, to install additional showers and toilets. While playrooms had been set up for young children in the “Hangar” centre, the outside environment was stark, with no vegetation or furnishings in place for children’s open-air activities.”
The Commissioner added that in the Hal Far Tent Village most of the unaccompanied minors she talked to stated that they were not attending school and were not involved in other meaningful activities. While the minors confirmed that they were being assisted by the social services, they had difficulties in understanding their situation at the time and their future prospects. Furthermore, contrary to the authorities’ obligations under Maltese legislation regarding protection of the rights of the child, no guardians had yet been appointed for these minors.
In 2021, AWAS indicated that it carried out several training initiatives for its staff working in reception centres
- Conflict Management: 12 senior management and coordinators
- Mental Health First Aid: 22 support workers and social workers
- EASO Module – Reception for Vulnerable Persons: 13 individuals
- EASO Module – Management in Reception: 1 Unit Leader and 8 coordinators
- EASO Module – Trafficking of Human Beings: 33 reception staff (social Workers, therapeutic services unit and migrant advice unit staff
- EASO Thematic Session – Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity: 7 reception staff
- EASO Thematic Session – Torture & Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: 33 reception staff.
 Information provided by AWAS, January 2021.
 Information provided by EASO, September 2021.
 Information provided by JRS social workers who visit reception centres on a regular basis, 2020.
 Information provided by JRS Malta 2021.
 Information provided by AWAS, February 2021.