MALTA: Human Rights Watch urges revision of detention policy

[5 August 2013] - 

International NGO Human Rights Watch is urging Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to review Malta’s policy to arbitrarily detain asylum seekers and migrants on arrival, particularly those who claim to be younger than 18.

In an open letter to Dr Muscat, HRW referred to two recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights – in Suso Musa v. Malta and Aden Ahmed v. Malta – in which the court ruled that the two asylum seekers’ rights had been violated by their detention in Malta.

Ibrahim Suso Musa was awarded €24,000 in damages and €3,000 in costs and expenses, while Aslya Aden Ahmed was awarded €30,000 in damages and €3,000 in costs and expenses. The judgments are not final, however: either party has three months to request that the case is referred to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.

In its letter, HRW said that it was “encouraged to learn of the review of detention initiated in 2012 by the Office of the Prime Minister under the previous administration, and are eager to hear of steps by the present government taken to continue and conclude that review.”

Its main concerns, it stressed, were the arbitrary detention of migrants for up to 18 months – up to 12 months if they apply for asylum and their claim is not rejected – and the detention of unaccompanied children.

Minors who are clearly younger than 18 – and their parents, where applicable – are released from detention as soon as possible, but others who cannot prove their age are detained until they go through a formal age determination procedure.

“While we understand that efforts are made to minimize this period, the fact remains that children are being detained with unrelated adults without any special provisions for the fact they are children,” HRW wrote. The practice was also condemned, last February, by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The NGO said that it recognised that Malta received a large proportion of migrants and asylum seekers entering the EU, and stressed that it has called for the expansion of the pilot EU relocation programme and for greater EU assistance to Malta. Furthermore, the NGO has consistently called for a reform of the Dublin Regulation, which it believes imposes an unfair burden on EU states at its external borders.

HRW also recognised that under international law, migrants without permission to enter or stay in a country may be subject to detention, in certain circumstances, and subject to safeguards.

“However in Malta, detention is in practice automatic and prolonged, without effective safeguards,” it added.

HRW is thus urging Malta to revise its laws and policies so that migrants are not detained simply because they have entered without permission, and to only allow for the detention of asylum seekers in exceptional cases.

“Malta should fully, effectively, and immediately comply with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Suso Musa v. Malta, including by putting into place reforms giving migrants access to a remedy whereby they can effectively challenge their detention,” the NGO said.

The NGO also recommended that Malta end the “unnecessary” detention of unaccompanied migrant children by provisionally treating those with reasonable claims to be under 18 as children until age determination is completed. In the meantime, it recommended that Malta should use separate facilities to detain those pending age determination requests so they are not detained with unrelated adults.



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