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. There are also common showers and toilets. The large number of persons accommodated in each centre (e.g. around 400 in Initial Reception 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 175 AWAS staff are currently working in several reception centres. An AWAS coordinator is based in the centres run by NGOs, and social workers visit migrants on a regular basis.
The majority of centres do not offer any form of activities for residents, it is rather NGOs which provide certain activities, such as free language classes in English or Maltese. However, residents are able to freely leave the centre as they please.
Overall, the living conditions in the open centres, save for a few exceptions, are extremely challenging. Low hygiene levels, severe over-crowding, a lack of physical security, the location of most centres in remote areas of Malta, poor material structures and 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 2019, especially in the Ħal Far centres.
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 2019, the conditions in the reception centres continued to deteriorate significantly, due to over-crowding and a lack of resources. Issues include a lack of cleaning, difficult access to bathrooms, very limited hot water, or air conditioning and heating not being available.
Group evictions also led to tensions which culminated in October 2019 when riots broke out in Ħal Far Tent Village, the main reception centre of the island. It is estimated that 300 residents were involved and 107 people were arrested. Some police officers were slightly injured, several cars burnt and some buildings of the centre sustained substantial damage.
These incidents led to strong reactions from all actors involved in the field. The Home Affairs Minister mainly underlined the damages caused by migrants and said that “as a democratic country, peaceful protests can take place, but breaking the law is not allowed and it applies to everyone even migrants.”
UNHCR Malta stated that “resorting to violence can never be a solution as it puts both the residents and staff at risk.”  Nevertheless, UNHCR also referred to the deteriorating conditions in open centres, “falling far short of acceptable standards” and urged the Maltese government to “take immediate action in improving the conditions in the centres”
The University of Malta expressed its concern by “univocally condemning the violence” but “equally calling on the authorities to reflect on the reasons that lead to these behaviours”. The Faculty of Education clearly called on the authorities “to reflect on the policies the country adopts in relation to migration, including its integration strategies. Ghettoing people in a particular locality, leaving them in a state of uncertainty, and de facto punishing those who are simply seeking to escape hell or seek a decent life is leading to anger and frustration, unfortunately this may lead to violence.”
Information provided by AWAS, January 2019.
 Information provided by JRS social workers who visit reception centres on a regular basis, 2018.