Migrants and asylum-seekers continued to be detained on arrival, in contravention of international laws and standards. The policies of the Maltese authorities were of concern to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which linked detention procedures towards migrants with the rise of racism and intolerance in the country.
Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers
A report by ECRI, published in April, highlighted the lack of legal aid and information available to asylum-seekers upon arrival in Malta; asylum-seekers were denied access to free legal aid for their initial asylum claim, and were only entitled to legal representation if they paid the costs themselves.
ECRI also pointed out that irregular migrants, asylum-seekers, people under humanitarian protection and refugees faced racial discrimination in accessing various services and exploitation in the labour market.
The authorities implemented a policy of systematically detaining all irregular migrants and asylum-seekers.
At the end of the year, around 2,050 migrants were detained in closed detention centres. A further 2,100 were accommodated in open centres, where they were free to come and go. Vulnerable groups such as families with minors, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, people with disabilities and the elderly were among those detained for several weeks or months in closed detention centres while waiting for the identification process to be completed. Only then were they transferred to open centres. Asylum-seekers were kept in closed detention centres and transferred to open centres only after filing their asylum applications, which often took several weeks.
"...there was still little awareness of the need to actively monitor racism..."
No automatic judicial review of detention was provided, in contravention of Article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Some conditions of detention were very poor. In a study commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and published in January, detention centres were described as overcrowded, and characterized by poor hygiene and inadequate health care.
In Hal Far Open Centre, more than 1,000 people were accommodated in tents and mobile containers and exposed to the cold and the rain. The government had not earmarked funds to improve living conditions in the Centre by the end of the year.
ECRI expressed concern at Malta’s practice of detaining migrants, saying it affected their rights and noting that the policies put in place by the authorities to respond to the challenges of irregular immigration were “seriously reinforcing perceptions of immigrants as criminals and increasing the levels of racism and xenophobia among the general population.”
ECRI also noted that the legal provisions against racist expression, racially motivated offences and racial discrimination were not yet fully applied, and there was still little awareness of the need to actively monitor racism and racial discrimination in order to properly identify and address these concerns.