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 Open Centre [HFO], 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. There are also common showers and toilets. The large number of persons accommodated in each centre inevitably results in severe hygiene and maintenance problems.
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 also 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. They also established a Migrant Advise Unit in order to provide information to residents. EASO is said 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 acknowledges that this system is just beginning as it was put in place in November 2020 and will be developed in the coming years with the support of EASO.
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.
However, despite these improvements, the living conditions in the open centres, save for a few exceptions, remain extremely challenging. For example, 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 which leads to intense frustration. Food is provided daily but residents often mention the poor quality and lack of variety of food.
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.
In 2020, the conditions in the reception centres continued to deteriorate significantly, due to over-crowding and the Covid-19 pandemic. Issues include a lack of cleaning of facilities, difficulty accessing bathrooms, limited hot water or air conditioning, and heating not being available.
Refugees are entitled to apply to the Maltese Housing Authority program for alternative accommodation known as “Government Units for Rent”, provided they have been residing in Malta for 12 months and have limited income and assets. Refugees are also entitled to all of the schemes offered by the Housing Authority, such as a rent subsidy scheme.
The majority of centres offer limited options for activities for residents. On the contrary, it is largely NGOs that provide certain activities, such as free language classes in English or Maltese. 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. They also indicated working with JobPlus to offer basic English or Maltese courses in view of employment. They also mentioned that music sessions and barber sessions are being organised as well as crafts for children and football in Marsa.
Recreational areas for UMAS are in the process of being upgraded, however due to other maintenance projects being carried out across all AWAS reception facilities, the work is still to be finalised. 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.
 Information provided by AWAS, January 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.