23rd Oct 2016

Asylum seeker beaten to death in Malta

  • Two Maltese soldiers have been accused of beating to death an asylum seeker from Mali (Photo: USEmbMalta)

The alleged beating to death of an asylum seeker by two soldiers in Malta has highlighted the country’s poor reception conditions.

The Malian asylum seeker had escaped from Malta's Safi detention centre in August 2009. On Friday evening, he sought medical treatment at a clinic but staff alerted the authorities who picked him up in a van and transported him to a detention facility, report Maltese media. By the time he arrived at the facility early Saturday morning, he was found dead inside the van.

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“He had blows to his groin. He did not die of natural causes,” Dr Neil Falzon of the Aditus Foundation, a human rights NGO, told EUobserver.

Malta’s ministry of foreign affairs would not comment on the death because of ongoing court proceedings. The two soldiers deny the accusations and have pleaded not guilty. However, Malta says they will launch an inquiry into its detention services.

The island-nation has only two facilities which are both stationed on military bases.

Allegations of violence against asylum seekers are widespread with NGOs and international organisations condemning the state’s policy of mandatory detention.

A report by the International Commission of Jurists in May criticized the country for the “poor hygienic conditions of the detention centres.”

Both of Malta’s detention facilities each currently house around 100 people, including unaccompanied minors says Falzon.

Maltese authorities told this website that children and other vulnerable people “are not subject to the detention requirement” but have their freedom restricted until they are cleared medically.

NGOs say most of those detained spend between six to eight months in cramped rooms. Those denied refugee or asylum status may remain up to 18 months in the facilities, they claim.

“The whole environment is very depressing,” said Falzon.

Dr Katrine Camilleri of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) on Sunday released a statement claiming “that these and other violent incidents that have occurred over the years demonstrate that Malta’s initial reception system has repeatedly failed and that the costs of the mandatory detention policy far outweigh the potential benefits for all concerned.”

The vast majority are from North Africa with many having been forced to flee persecution. Up to 70 percent are granted either refugee status or subsidiary protection status due to the overwhelming evidence supporting decisions to flee their home countries for non-economic reasons.

Malta had over 2,000 requests and granted 885 positive decisions in 2011, according the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat. Around 70 became officially recongised refugees, 690 obtained subsidiary protection, and 125 remained for humanitarian reasons.

“Those immigrants who qualify for international protection are immediately released from detention, offered accommodation at Open Centres and granted the relevant rights. Those immigrants who do not seek international protection or do not qualify for it, must be repatriated,” Malta’s ministry of foreign affairs told EUobserver by email.

Malta is among the member states currently opposing the European Commission and the European Parliament’s proposal to offer judicial review of detained asylum seekers. The judicial review would entitle a judge to scrutinize any state decision to send an asylum seeker to a detention centre.

Member states and the European Parliament had on Wednesday 27(June) entered into negotiations in an attempt to finalise the outstanding issue but failed to achieve a compromise by early Thursday.

MEPs had hoped the Danish EU presidency, following the collapse in talks over a separate border control issue, would apply additional pressure on member states to cloture the EU asylum legislative package.

But a no-decision means negotiations will have to continue under the Cypriot Presidency with EU ministers meeting on 11 July to discuss possible ways forward.

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