Following its ad hoc visit to Malta in September 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s detention of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees–particularly during the pandemic. At the time of the visit (17-22 September), Malta was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases while also witnessing increasing numbers of irregular sea arrivals.
Of particular concern to the committee was the fact that COVID-positive migrants had not been separated from other detainees–something that the CPT argued “may well raise issues not only under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) but also as regards Malta’s positive obligation to protect life under Article 2 of the ECHR.” The committee thus urged Malta to ensure that all detainees who test positive are immediately isolated from non-positive detainees.
Describing Malta’s immigration detention system, the committee notes that it “purely ‘contained’ migrants who had essentially been forgotten, within poor conditions of detention and regimes which verged on institutional mass neglect by the authorities.” Migrants were found to be locked in facilities with little–if any–access to time outside, centres were reported to be severely overcrowded, and recreational activities were not provided to detainees. Noting this, the committee urged Malta to ensure that as a minimum during the pandemic, all detainees have at least one hour of outdoor exercise (and preferably more).
The committee also reported that many migrants were being detained for unlawful and arbitrarily long periods without review under public health orders: at the time of the committee’s visit, more than 90 percent of detainees were being detained on public health grounds. However, the CPT notes, “There were no registers of the detention orders or copies of the detention orders kept at the Detention Services or IRC establishments, and management did not appear to know who was being held on which grounds.”
In January 2021, a detainee held at Safi Barracks wrote to InfoMigrants, describing his detention: “We are in a miserable condition and … lack the most basic rights to live. …. We are held for 16 months… (some people) suffer from serious physical and psychological diseases to the extent that (they) tried to commit suicide several times. We have abstained from eating for several days.”
In a separate report recently published by the Council of Europe, Malta’s failure to assist migrants and refugees at sea was also condemned: “Failures to respond and delays in attending to distress calls, or to provide information to relevant bodies that could conduct the rescue, have risked jeopardising the right to life of people at sea.”
- Council of Europe, “Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee Calls on Malta to Improve the Treatment of Detained Migrants,” 10 March 2021, https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/council-of-europe-s-anti-torture-committee-calls-on-malta-to-improve-the-treatment-of-detained-migrants
- European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, “Report to the Maltese Government on the Visit to Malta Carried Out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 17 to 22 September 2020, CPT/Inf (2021) 1,” https://rm.coe.int/1680a1b877
- InfoMigrants, “Malta: Mistreatment Claims, Ongoing Pressure Despite a Drop in Migrant Arrivals,” 14 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29626/malta-mistreatment-claims-ongoing-pressure-despite-a-drop-in-migrant-arrivals
- Council of Europe, “A Distress Call for Human Rights: The Widening Gap in Migrant Protection in the Mediterranean,”9 March 2021, https://rm.coe.int/a-distress-call-for-human-rights-the-widening-gap-in-migrant-protectio/1680a1abcd