In a report published yesterday on its September 2011 visit to Malta, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticised the appalling conditions under which foreign nationals were held at the two Warehouses at Safi Barracks in Malta. In Warehouse No.1, the delegation observed that migrants were held in extremely crowded conditions and that the sanitary facilities consisted of seven mobile toilets (without a flush) and seven mobile shower booths in a deplorable state, located outdoors.
The CPT also expressed concern over the frequency and seriousness of allegations by foreign nationals about the use of force by soldiers and police officers in the context of disturbances which had occurred in August 2011 at the Safi Detention Centre. Detainees claimed that they had been punched, kicked and struck with truncheons after having been handcuffed. The Commander of the Detention Service told the delegation that, to his knowledge, only one migrant had been slightly injured during this incident. However, medical notes and the fact that several detainees displayed visible injuries at the time of the visit were consistent with the allegations of ill-treatment.
The delegation also heard complaints from a number of detainees regarding disrespectful behaviour and racist remarks by detention officers. Furthermore, female detainees at Lyster Detention Centre were frequently supervised exclusively by male detention officers.
The CPT also noted clearly insufficient healthcare services at the Warehouses at Safi Barracks and at the Lyster Detention Centre. Furthermore, detention officers were often present during medical consultations in the detention centres and at outside hospitals.
Several detainees complained that they were not allowed to receive any visitors, the CPT calls upon the Maltese authorities to ensure that they are allowed to receive visits regularly. The report also highlights that migrants who are held in solitary confinement have no opportunity to present any evidence in their defence or to present an appeal against the decision.
At the time of the visit, Lyster Detention Centre and Safi Detention Centre were accommodating 248 and 506 foreign nationals respectively.
The delegation was informed that “agitated” or suicidal detainees were usually transferred to Mount Carmel Hospital, where conditions in the “Irregular Migrants’ Ward” were described by the CPT as “far below any acceptable standard” and “anti-therapeutic”. Cells measure about 8 m², and hold only a bed and a floor toilet in the corner. There is a lack of both natural and electric light in the cells, and patients are not offered any outdoor exercise, the only out-of-cell ‘activity’ available to them being to walk in the corridor for a couple of hours in the day, or to watch television.
In their response to the report, the Maltese authorities claim that “the accounts of and comments on the incidents in the CPT reports are unashamedly biased. They systematically try to minimize the responsibility of the rioting illegal immigrants while maximizing the responsibility of the forces of law and order”, adding that “in the Government’s view the Council of Europe should build a relationship of mutual trust with its Member States and not project itself as a collection of bodies acting and reacting at the beck and call of some NGOs”.