They had been detained illegally for 58 days.
by ADITUS FOUNDATION
On Friday 21 January, lawyers from Aditus Foundation secured the released of six people from their illegal detention at Safi Barracks. They were in detention for 58 days. Three of them were confirmed to be children by the Government’s agency responsible for assessing the age of unaccompanied children.
In response to a similar Court application filed the same day by another detained teenager, also
represented by Aditus’ lawyers, the Court of Magistrates denied his release request and regretfully failed to require the Government to explain the specific legal basis for his detention at Safi Barracks.
The first application for release, filed by seven detained persons, was rejected by the Court of
Magistrates on a procedural issue and therefore the legality of their detention was not examined by the Court. Yet a few minutes later the Government entities present in Court ordered the release of six of the applicants, a complete volte-face from their previous position that they were not in fact detaining them.
Although we remain baffled at this twist in events and astounded by the lack of clarity as to which
authority was responsible for detaining our clients without any legal basis, we cannot hide the immense joy we felt when 3 children and 3 young men left the Court free.
It was a particularly rewarding experience since three of the released persons are children. They can now receive the care and support all children need and deserve, irrespectively of their immigration or other status. We just hope they are not permanently scarred by the trauma of being locked up for 58 days in appalling conditions in Safi Barracks, with adults unrelated to them.” (Neil Falzon, aditus Director)
A subsequent Court petition immediately filed by the seventh man, also a teenager, was rejected on the basis of the claim by the Superintendent of Public Health that the applicant suffered from a contagious illness. The Court noted that “it cannot be said that any public authority ordered the applicant’s detention...because he is presently not under any detention order but limitedly under an order that restricts his movement in relation to which Article 409A of the Criminal Code does not apply.” We fail to understand these conclusions for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Court failed to appreciate our observation that Maltese nationals are not locked up in Safi Barracks in order to receive medication and health care once they have been diagnosed with a contagious illness. Whilst the Superintendent of Public Health may restrict their movements, she is not permitted to detain any person without requesting a Court to do so: a procedure not followed in this case. Secondly, during the sitting no medical evidence was brought in support of the claim that our client’s illness was actually contagious. To the contrary, in Safi Barracks this young man is not in medical isolation but lives amongst other men. He met with his lawyers a number of times without them every being advised that he had a contagious disease and at no point was the Court alerted to any public health danger posed by his presence in Court.
Thirdly, it sounds incongruent to hear that our client is not being detained when everything about his situation points towards detention: his present address is Safi Barracks, unequivocally described by Maltese law as “a place of detention for the purposes of the Immigration Act”; a public entity called ‘Detention Services’ is responsible for every logistical aspect of his life, including meals, medical services, clothing, communications, and transportation. His situation is in squarely line with what the European Court of Human Rights describes as a situation of detention, such as the impossibility to leave the centre, limited communication with the outside world, and being under the constant supervision of a Government entity. Finally, the Court failed to even consider the fact that the applicant is a teenager seeking asylum in Malta and, therefore,
as a young person and an asylum seeker he is entitled to a higher level of protection from the State.
“Overall, Friday’s nine-hour proceedings were a human rights success, albeit the heart-breaking
situation of finding children in such desperate situations. Our interventions gave six people, including mthree children, their deserved freedom after 58 days of being illegally detained in Safi Barracks. These 3 children are now in a safer and more secure place under the care of trained professionals.
We are of course saddened that Malta has reverted to arbitrarily detaining children, in violation of its own laws and policies, , simply because they are here seeking refuge. It’s high time for this to change. It is high time to hold the State to account for these gross violations of the rights of the most vulnerable!”