Migrants and asylum-seekers continued to be detained on arrival, in breach of international human rights law. Living conditions in detention and open reception centres reportedly worsened. The EU “Returns Directive” was transposed into domestic legislation, but its scope of application was restricted. Policies affecting migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were criticized by international bodies.
During 2011, more than 1,500 people arrived by sea from either the Middle East or North Africa, returning to the levels seen in 2009. Immigration detention continued to be mandatory for anyone whom the authorities deemed to be a “prohibited immigrant”, and was often prolonged for up to 18 months. According to reports, conditions in both detention and open reception centres worsened as a consequence of the number of new arrivals, increasing the impact on detainees’ mental and physical health.
In March, the EU’s 2008 “Returns Directive” was transposed into domestic legislation. The Directive provided common standards and procedures in EU member states for detaining and returning people who stay in a country illegally. However, the domestic legislation excluded those who had been refused entry – or had entered Malta irregularly – from enjoying these minimum safeguards. The Directive would therefore not apply to the vast majority of those it was meant to protect.
Appeal procedures to challenge the length and legitimacy of detention, or to challenge decisions to reject an asylum claim, continued to be inadequate.
In November, the Constitutional Court found that the authorities had violated the human rights of two Somali men who, in 2004, had been forcibly returned to Libya, where they were tortured and subjected to unfair trials. While in Malta, the two men were denied an opportunity to apply for asylum or to be assisted by an interpreter. The two men were awarded compensation.
In June, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the policy of mandatory detention of migrants and asylum-seekers was “irreconcilable with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the Strasbourg Court”. The Commissioner also criticized living conditions in reception centres for migrants, particularly in Hal-Far tent village and hangar complex, and in Marsa, and the treatment of individuals belonging to vulnerable groups. He suggested measures to improve refugee determination procedures, called for a programme to address the social exclusion of migrants and others, and for a strategy to promote local integration and combat racism and xenophobia.
In September, the UN CERD Committee expressed concern about the detention and living conditions of irregular migrants, and their access to available legal safeguards. It also criticized the continuing discrimination in the enjoyment by migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers of their economic, social and cultural rights.Top of page