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UN Condemns Malta’s Treatment Of Asylum-Seekers

UN Refugee Agency Condemns Malta’s Treatment Of Asylum-Seekers

Calling on the European Union to harmonize the asylum policies of its members, the United Nations refugee agency today criticized Malta’s policies, the strictest in the EU, and condemned what it said were deliberate attacks by Maltese soldiers on asylum-seekers demonstrating peacefully in a detention centre.

As a result of the bludgeoning mounted as some of the 450 asylum-seekers sat on a football pitch last Thursday in the Safi detention centre, 26 asylum-seekers were hospitalized overnight, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

According to UNHCR legal staff members from Rome who happened to be visiting Malta at the time and who went to the Safi centre, a former barracks, one of the injured had three broken bones in one leg, another had to take 15 stitches and a third received six stitches.

UNHCR said it welcomed the speed with which the Maltese Government announced that it was launching an enquiry, but added that it had received no reply to a detailed, written report on certain unacceptable conditions in the four detention centres.

Malta imposes mandatory detention on asylum seekers while they wait to see if they will be given refugee status. The time has been reduced to 18 months from indefinite detention, UNHCR said.

While UNHCR recognized Malta’s concern at being close to the major human smuggling routes of North Africa, the agency said it did not believe such concerns warranted using detention as a deterrent. Under UNHCR guidelines, detaining children is forbidden, it said.

Some detainees are living in tents where the women have been housed with men who are not their relatives and where some toilets and showers lack doors. The tents also provide little protection from winter cold and summer heat, UNHCR said.

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