Migrants and asylum-seekers’ lives were put at risk by delays in sea rescue operations. They continued to be routinely detained on arrival, in contravention of international standards. Conditions in detention remained poor, despite efforts by the authorities to improve some facilities.
Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers’ rights
Rescue at sea
The authorities failed to adequately protect the lives of migrants and asylum-seekers rescued at sea. The Maltese and Italian governments disagreed over which country was responsible for search and rescue operations, which led to delays in responding to distress calls.
- On 16 April, a Turkish cargo ship, Pinar, rescued an estimated 140 people whose boat was at risk of sinking in waters south of Sicily. The ship was prevented from reaching either a Maltese or Italian port because neither country would accept responsibility for the people rescued. The individuals were left stranded for four days with insufficient food and water and forced to sleep on the deck of the ship. They were eventually allowed to disembark at Porto Empedocle, Italy, on 20 April.
- On 30 April, a Maltese coastguard vessel was prevented by the Italian authorities from disembarking 66 migrants and possible asylum-seekers on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The individuals were rescued by a Tunisian fishing boat and transferred to the Maltese vessel while in Malta’s search and rescue zone as designated by international conventions. Despite this, the Maltese authorities initially refused to assist or disembark the migrants and asylum-seekers on Maltese territory. The migrants and asylum-seekers were eventually admitted to Malta.
In January, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns about the legal basis for detention of migrants and asylum-seekers. The Working Group noted that detention is automatic and mandatory for all irregular migrants, including asylum-seekers; the maximum length of detention is not defined in law and its duration is often not related to individual case assessments.
In practice, the government has applied a maximum one-year detention period for asylum-seekers whose applications are pending. Rejected asylum-seekers and all irregular migrants who have not been forcibly returned to their home countries or to third countries after 18 months’ detention are generally released.
Decisions regarding asylum applications and detention can only be challenged before the Immigration Appeals Board, which is not part of the judiciary. This contravenes Article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for automatic judicial review of detention.
Conditions in detention remained poor. In Hal Far Centre, more than 500 people were living in tents. The authorities opened a new detention facility in Ta’Kandja and renovated part of the Lyster Centre.