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Malta / Migrants: UN expert group hails positive move on automatic detention, but calls for long-term solutions

VALLETTA / GENEVA (26 June 2015) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention welcomed Malta’s decision to remove automatic mandatory detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, which has drastically reduced the number of migrants in detention. However, the experts expressed concerns about the conditions in open centres.

“The lack of long term solutions to migrants residing in Malta seems to have a negative impact on the effectiveness of their right to liberty,” said human rights expert Sètondji Roland Adjovi at the end of the Group’s follow-up visit* to the country. “We remain concerned about the precarious and inhuman conditions of the alternatives to detention in Malta.” 

“Effective liberty and humane conditions for those residing in open centres would be critical in any assessment of whether they are not indeed a new form of deprivation of liberty,” Mr. Adjovi said.

The expert group’s delegation, which also included expert Mads Andenas, noted that many migrants and asylum seekers are experiencing difficulties to integrate into the Maltese society. “The precarious condition generated by limited resources and job opportunities in the country can only be a challenge for all in the years to come, negatively affecting the integration process,” Mr. Andenas stated.

“We have noted that persons being held at the immigration detention centres are not clearly aware of their status, while their access to legal aid seems to be very limited,” he said, stressing that effective and speedy remedies seem to be lacking, including under the immigration appeals board, the constitutional court and the access to European regional justice mechanisms.

The Working Group noted, however, further changes which the authorities are currently working on, especially in relation to minors and removal orders. They also highlighted the planned change in the length of detention, which would establish a maximum of 18 months for irregular migrants and 9 months for asylum seekers.

A review processes have also been introduced in the detention of migrants, including those who are going to be returned to their countries of origin. Based on the changes in the legislation, the first review is conducted by the principal immigration officer within the first three months of the detention, while the Immigration Appeals Board would have jurisdiction thereafter.

“We were pleased to learn that the mandate of this Board has been expanded to a full review of the legality and grounds of the detention, and that the detainee can also challenge the detention before the court, with eligibility to legal aid throughout the process,” Mr. Adjovi said.

The experts also welcomed the introduction of an initial reception system to change the practice of automatically detaining irregular migrants and asylum seekers from the starting point.

A new initial reception centre has already been set up for unaccompanied migrant children and accompanied migrant children with up to two family members upon arrival, for medical clearance, age assessment and registration before a transfer to an open centre. This will allow for the non-detention of minors.

Plans are still under way for a temporary initial reception centre for adults, while the Government is going to start the construction of a new facility to be used as an initial reception centre which is expected to be in compliance with European Union Directives on the subject.

During their three-day mission to Malta, the experts met with authorities of different Branches of the State and representatives of civil society. They also visited prisons and detention centres.

The Working Group will present a follow-up report at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

(*) Check the experts’ full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16156&LangID=E

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1991 to investigate instances of alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was clarified and extended by the Commission to cover the issue of administrative custody of asylum-seekers and immigrants. In September 2013, the Human Rights Council confirmed the scope of the Working Group's mandate and extended it for a further three-year period.

The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (the Republic of Korea); the Vice Chair-Rapporteurs are Mr. José Guevara (Mexico) and Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin). Other members include Mr. Mads Andenas (Norway) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights Country Page – Malta: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/MTIndex.aspx

Check the Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: http://www.unwgaddatabase.org/un/

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms. Yiyao Zhang (+ 41 22 917 9634 / +41 769 444 3707 / yzhang@ohchr.org) and Mr. Miguel de la Lama (+41 22 917 9289 / +41 79 444 4917 / mdelalama@ohchr.org) or write to  wgad@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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