Detention in Malta

JRS believes that asylum seekers should not be detained and that detention should only be resorted to in individual cases, when other, non-custodial methods have proved ineffective or where an asylum seeker poses a serious threat to national security or public order.

JRS strongly encourages the development of non-custodial alternatives to detention for the reception of asylum seekers with irregular migration status.

All immigrants who are refused admission into Malta or who enter or stay in Malta illegally are detained. Malta’s immigration law, enacted in 1970, stipulates that all immigrants issued with a removal order or refused admission into Malta shall be detained until they can be removed from national territory. Once apprehended by the authorities, immigrants remain in detention even after they apply for refugee status.

Until 2002 the number of immigrants in detention was relatively small, usually less than 100 at any given time, and few spent more than some weeks in detention.

But a sudden change in migration patterns in the Mediterranean in 2002 saw sharply increased numbers of undocumented ‘boat people’ from North Africa, usually Libya, arriving in Malta.

The application of existing laws and policies in this new scenario has served to swell the island’s immigration detention population.  And as a rule, immigrants spend months, rather than weeks, in detention.

With immigrants who apply for protection, detention lasts as long as it takes for asylum claims to be determined. This usually takes months.

Asylum seekers may be detained for up to 12 months: at this point, if their claim is still pending, they are released.

Under current government policy rejected asylum seekers and other irregular immigrants who have not been deported within 18 months are released to live in the community.

Exceptions are only made for those immigrants who are found to be in some way vulnerable. They are released after medical screening and when accommodation is found in the community. This process too could take months.

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Immigrants and asylum seekers are detained in one of two detention centres:

  • Safi Barracks, a military structure which contains three compounds for detainees: Warehouse 1, Warehouse 2, and the renovated B Block.
  • Lyster Barracks, Hal Far, another military compound, where immigrants are detained in the renovated Hermes block.

Malta’s policy and practice of administrative detention of immigrants and asylum seekers has come under fire in recent years. Local NGOs, international monitoring agencies such as the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee, international human rights agencies and even the European Court of Human Rights through its judgements have severely criticized and questioned the detention system.

Pressing concerns include:

  • The length of detention
  • Arbitrariness in implementation of detention policy
  • Lack of clear and impartial procedures for identification and release of vulnerable immigrants
  • Lack of judicial review of the administrative decision to detain
  • Impact of detention on asylum procedure
  • Poor conditions of detention and limited access to basic services
  • Psychological harm caused by prolonged detention
  • Social cost of detention

Find out more about the administrative detention of asylum seekers and irregularly staying third-country nationals in Malta in our latest (July 2010) national report on Becoming Vulnerable in Detention. Download the JRS Malta report.

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Read more about detention in Malta:

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Jesuit Refugee Service Europe documents and publications:

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Read more about detention:

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