Friday, February 24, 2012

Council of Europe report on situation in Malta for asylum seekers, June 2011

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe – Mr Thomas Hammarburg  - has recently published a report detailing the Council’s concerns regarding the situation of asylum seekers in Malta. The  report, dated 9th June 2011, identifies the following concerns regarding Malta’s detention policy:

-         It provides for mandatory administrative detention for all arriving migrants, including asylum seekers.  The Commissioner recommended that Malta should provide for “the presumption in favour of liberty under national law, and establish a framework for the implementation of alternatives to detention.”
-         Malta has failed to comply with ECHR July 2010 judgment in Louled Massoud, which found a violation of Art 5 in relation to detention of an asylum seeker, whose claim had been rejected for almost 18 months.  The Commissioner recommended that “speedy and effective remedies” should be available to migrants to challenge their detention.

The report identified the following concerns regarding the living conditions in the detention and open centres:

-         The Commissioner noted that living conditions in open centres, where migrants released from detention are housed, vary substantially, with adequate arrangements in smaller centres that cater for some vulnerable groups (families with children, pregnant women, unaccompanied minors) and “far more difficult” conditions in the bigger centres.  The Commissioner found one such tent village in a larger centre “clearly inadequate” even for short periods of time and recommended it be closed.  He also noted that conditions had reportedly deteriorated at another complex housing vulnerable groups since the Commissioner’s visit following new arrivals from Libya. 

-         Re: vulnerable groups— the Commissioner noted that Malta’s policy of mandatory detention of members of vulnerable groups was “at variance with international standards,” which provide that such measures should only be used as a measure of last resort, and that he was concerned about the lengthy period of time unaccompanied minors and people with disabilities or serious physical or mental problems spend as a result of the lengthy procedures for establishing their vulnerability.  The Commissioner also noted that these smaller facilities that house vulnerable groups often become full so that members of these groups, including those returned from other EU countries under the Dublin Regulations often end up in the bigger centres that “are totally inadequate for this purpose.”

The report also expressed concern, with respect to legal aid and asylum proceedings, that despite some progress in this area, Malta needs to provide legal aid and improve access to case files for asylum seekers and their representatives and the motivation behind asylum decisions.

The Commissioner, who had found that the system in place to support migrants “currently perpetuates their social exclusion and leaves them at serious risk of destitution,” recommended that Malta make available financial support and social assistance to all beneficiaries of international protection in Malta, rather than limiting financial assistance to those living in the detention centres.   With respect to the Commissioner’s concern about reportedly prevalent racism and xenophobia against migrants in Malta, he recommended that the government do more in terms of developing a “robust public information strategy to favour [migrants’] local integration.”

Brophy Solicitors 

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