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03 December 2020 – Malta

M. Agius, “Court Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers as ‘Abusive and Farcical,’” Newsbook, 28 November 2020,
M. Agius, “Court Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers as ‘Abusive and Farcical,’” Newsbook, 28 November 2020,

In a habeas corpus case, a Maltese court ordered the release of detained asylum seekers, describing their treatment as “abusive and farcical.” The four men, who arrived in Malta on 7 June 2020, had been detained in Safi Barracks and Lyster Barracks for 166 days and alleged that they had not been informed of any reasons or legal justification for their continued detention. Following their release, the asylum seekers were offered temporary accommodation by Maltese NGO, the Aditus Foundation. This decision came just one month after a similar case concerning the arbitrary detention of an asylum seeker for 144 days.

Until 2015, Malta automatically detained all individuals who entered the country irregularly. Despite amending its legal and policy framework–adopting its “Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants,” which provides that arrivals are to be placed in an “initial reception centre”–NGOs including Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and Aditus have argued that in practice, those arriving irregularly are often placed directly into detention. Since 2018, authorities are reported to have repeatedly detained asylum seekers on public health grounds, citing suspicions that irregular arrivals will spread contagious diseases, despite all asylum applicants undergoing medical screening upon arrival. Others have been detained due to a lack of space in open facilities. In an op-ed for ECRE, the Director of the Maltese NGO Aditus Foundation noted that “hundreds of asylum-seekers are currently illegally detained in Malta’s squalid detention centres.”

Frontline EU countries like Malta–including Italy, Greece, and Spain–often bear a disproportionate burden in terms of registration and reception of asylum seekers. In a draft resolution adopted on 1 December with 45 votes to ten (and 13 abstentions) the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee noted that the Dublin III Regulation imposes this disproportionate burden, and called for the establishment of a solidarity-based mechanism “to ensure the fundamental right of asylum in the EU and responsibility sharing among member states.” In the absence of reform, the committee argued that more resources should be sent to front-line countries.

Several groups of migrants and asylum seekers have been relocated from the country in recent months, amidst Malta’s calls for greater responsibility sharing across the EU. On 25 November, a group was transferred to Germany–reportedly the fifth relocation since September. In September, reports also emerged detailing government plans to charter a ferry to detain non-nationals offshore. Observers accused officials of devising the plan in an attempt to placate growing public frustration regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.