24. Juli 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Malta: Bericht aus den 2 Abschiebeknästen des Landes · Kategorien: Malta · Tags:

„The Home Affairs Ministry gave journalists the opportunity to tour both detention centres for asylum seekers and immigrants who entered Malta irregularly yesterday. John Cordina reports on his experiences inside.
They may not be facing any criminal proceedings, but a total of 922 people are currently being detained in packed warehouses, former barracks and other repurposed buildings within two Armed Forces of Malta bases.

They are, of course, the asylum seekers and immigrants who have mostly been intercepted or rescued whilst heading for Malta.

A mostly-Maltese group of journalists were yesterday given the opportunity to tour the two detention centres – at the Safi Barracks and at the Lyster Barracks in nearby Ħal Far – which house them, in a visit organised by the Home Affairs Ministry.

In contrast to the restricted access typically granted in past years, journalists were given unrestricted access to both centres and the freedom to talk to anyone present, although they were accompanied by Detention Services and AFM personnel at all times.

[…] As it turned out, detainees – in the absence of interpreters, the minority who could speak English – proved only too willing to talk to members of the press, some even serving as interpreters for their fellow nationals.Most present detainees have only been in Malta for days or weeks: they were among the 769 who were either rescued at sea or intercepted in Maltese waters this month.

In line with policy, children and their parents are moved to open centres as soon as possible, and no children remain at either centre.

The Safi Barracks houses 664 single men, mainly in two warehouses: one sleeps 233 and the other 337. Lyster Barracks houses 105 men and 153 women: couples, single men and single women are housed separately.

[…] The “place” is a dingy-looking warehouse packed solid with bunk-beds and plywood partitions, which is presently home to Nasir and 336 other men.One of those 336 makes it a point to explain that they have to share just a handful of showers and toilets: the issue of inadequate hygienic facilities has been raised in a number of critical reports on the state of Malta’s detention centres.

There is also a clear lack of things to do to spend the time. There are a couple of TV sets on, and in any case, the warehouse is a bit too crowded to put more creature comforts in.

The warehouse’s detainees do have access to a yard, though few avail themselves of the option in the summer heat. A few men sit down in a sliver of shaded land, while a couple play with a football that has seen better days.

[…] The criticism Maltese detention centres have received over the years is dwarfed by the criticism aimed at their Libyan counterparts, with reports of abysmal accommodation facilities and abusive treatment of detainees.[…]
Detainees at Lyster Barracks are held at the somewhat ironically-named Hermes Block, named after a Greek god known for his agility and his ability to move freely between worlds. The three-storey block’s occupants, of course, are going nowhere fast.

Practically every person I talked to at Safi reported escaping from Libyan detention, and at Lyster Barracks, Eritrean national Filmon explains why this appears to be a relatively easy task. He fled when someone else bribed a prison official, he notes.

Back in Eritrea, Filmon was a history student at university, but clashes between students and the authoritarian government saw him end up in jail. He then slowly made his way to Libya, via Sudan, before spending six months in detention.

Living conditions at the Hermes Block appear to be somewhat better: there is no equivalent to the Safi warehouses, as detainees sleep in proper rooms housing a dozen or so people each.

In the first area our group visits – which houses single women, mainly from Somalia – finding English speakers is difficult, although a couple understand just enough words to bring their friend to talk.

Nimco, 21, answers with a quick no when asked if she is happy.

“We are refugees, and they are treating us like criminals in jail,” she says.

She mentions other detainees who are older, in poor health, and states that the level of healthcare provided is inadequate. Coincidentally, minutes earlier, Detention Services commander Brian Gatt explains that the block houses a clinic staffed by a doctor and a nurse, as do the Safi warehouses.

But Nimco insists that “they give us only Panadols… some of us are too sick.”

She states that she wishes to get out, to be able to help her parents and younger sisters back home, and to take whatever work she can get.

But for all her complaints, when asked if there is any particular thing she wanted to get across to the country, or the government, she has another one-word reply.

“Thanks,” she says, smiling.

Other women crowd around Nimco and the journalists as she speaks, seemingly airing out their complaints so she could pass them on. But another, a young mother named Nasira, is seeking to get her story heard.

Much of her story is similar to that of others we have heard: escaping to Libya, detention, and a boat trip to Malta, for which she paid $300. But there is another, tragic, detail in her tale.

“Two children and her husband were killed by ash-Shabaab,” Nimco recounts. Ash-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group which controls large swathes of Somalia, where it imposes a strict and brutal form of sharia law.

There seems to be no place reserved for the detainees – mainly Somali Muslims and Eritrean Christians, it seems – to hold religious observances, and when asked, Lt Col Gatt states that this is deliberate.

In the past, reserving places led to struggles for control between different faiths, he said, adding that the Detention Services also wanted to avoid the spread of extremism. However, he adds, people are free to pray.

Detention running out of room

It appears that one aim of the visit was to stress that Malta’s resources were being stretched to their limit.

On arrival, the ministry spokesman hands out an information sheet which provides the number of detainees at each detention centre, the arrivals, month by month, since 2012, and the total number of asylum seekers and others who entered Malta irregularly – 17,743 – who have entered Malta since 2002. Of course, the vast majority of these have since left the country, but no statistics are readily available.

[…] Most present detainees have only arrived in Malta this month: they were among the 769 who were either rescued at sea or intercepted in Maltese waters, numbers that led the government to “stamp its feet” – in Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s own words – to get the EU to listen to Malta’s requests for help over immigration.The government has also threatened to push-back migrants before they could file their potential asylum claims, prompting NGOs to seek and obtain an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights after learning of the authorities’ plans to put 45 men under police guard on a flight to Libya. The government has since insisted that had no intention to push back anyone, a claim reiterated by the ministry’s spokesman at Safi.

Under Malta’s detention policy – which has attracted criticism from human rights organisations – asylum seekers may be detained for up to 12 months on arrival, while those who do not apply for asylum or whose claim is rejected may be detained for up to 18 months. All are automatically moved to open centres when this maximum term is up.

Until a few years ago, people could practically expect to remain detained for the full 12 months, but the processing of refugee applications has since been greatly improved – the average stay is now five months, as Lt Col Gatt explains.

The vast majority of asylum seekers in Malta do end up receiving a form of humanitarian protection, at which point they are automatically moved to open centres. But in the meantime, it seems, they have to spend an average of five months in a cramped environment where there is little one can do to while away the time.

That same evening, coincidentally, a fight breaks out in Safi, leaving ten injured. It is disappointing news, perhaps; but given the frustrating environment they live in, it is hardly surprising.“


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