The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

Asylum report shows living conditions in open centres are challenging

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 11:10 Last update: about 7 years ago

Malta’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA) country report shows that conditions in the open centres vary greatly from one centre to another, yet overcrowding and related concerns are a common problem.

The report was written by the Aditus Foundation and the Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta) while being edited by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. The report was last updated in February.

“In general, the centres provide sleeping quarters either in the form of rooms housing between 4 (the centres for unaccompanied children) to 24 people (Marsa Open Centre), or mobile metal containers sleeping up to 8 persons per container (Ħal-Far Hangar site (HOC), and Hal Far Tent Centre (HTV)). Common cooking areas are provided, as also common showers and toilets. The large number of persons accommodated in each centre (e.g. around 400 in Marsa Open Centre, 500 in Hangar site) inevitably results in severe hygiene and maintenance problems”.

“Despite the very large numbers of residents, the majority of open centres are run by small teams that are responsible for the centres’ daily management and also for the provision of information and support to residents. Individuals are also referred to Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers’ (AWAS) social welfare team as necessary”.

The majority of centres do not offer any form of activities for residents, yet these are able to freely leave the centre as they please, the report added.

“Overall, the living conditions in the open centres, save for a few exceptions, are extremely challenging. Low hygiene levels, severe over-crowding, lack of physical security, location of most centres in a remote area of Malta, poor material structures and occasional infestation of rats are the main general concerns expressed in relation to the open centres”.

23% of 2013 applications by unaccompanied minors

Protection status applications by migrants in the first and second instance in 2013 saw a 16% rejection rate.

The majority of rejections were handed out to persons originating from Nigeria, where 88% of all Nigerian applicants were denied.

What could perhaps be the most shocking statistic is that of unaccompanied minors. 2013 saw 516 unaccompanied minors apply for asylum in Malta, that’s over 23% of all applications received. Figures for minors were indicative and only as claimed by applicant, not as confirmed by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS).

The report states that towards the end of 2014, Malta saw a rise in the number of Libyan asylum seekers. ”While these applicants included a number of persons who had already been living in Malta, the majority were new arrivals. The Maltese Office of the Refugee Commissioner has been granting, as a minimum, temporary humanitarian protection to all Libyan applicants and refugee status has also been granted in some cases”.

Low financial allowance for asylum seekers

The report reads that reception regulations generally specify that the level of material reception conditions should ensure a standard of living adequate for the health of the asylum seekers, and capable of ensuring their subsistence. “legislation does neither require a certain level of material reception conditions, nor does it set a minimum amount of financial allowance provided to detained asylum seekers. Asylum seekers living in Open Centres are given a small food and transport allowance, free access to state health services, in cases of children, free access to state education services”.

The report goes on to say that  Asylum seekers living in Open Centres experience difficulties in securing an adequate standard of living. “The daily allowance provided is barely sufficient to provide for the most basic of needs, and the lack of access to social welfare support exacerbates these difficulties. Social security policy and legislation precludes asylum seekers from social welfare benefits, except those benefits which are defined as ‘contributory’. With contributory benefits entitlement is based on payment of a set number of contributions and on meeting the qualifying conditions, which effectively implies that only a tiny number of asylum seekers would qualify for such benefits, if any”.

8 reception centres are being used, 6 of which are run by AWAS and the remaining 2 by NGOs, the report read. “The latter do, however, fall within AWAS’ overall reception system. Over-crowding becomes a problem at various times of the year, owing primarily to increased releases from detention and the failure of residents to leave the Open Centres”.

Unaccompanied children are generally accommodated alone, or in a centre where families are also accommodated, although the spaces are kept separate.

Turning to healthcare, the report states that practical difficulties arise for asylum seekers due to the fact that they are detained, as the detention system seriously hinders their access to health services.

Health services are provided within the detention centres, however, according to the report, are not sufficient “to meet the entirety of needs in the centres. Asylum seekers who are not detained may access the state health services, with the main obstacles being mainly linked to language difficulties”.

Institutional obstacles also exist, the report continued, preventing recourse to mainstream health services when required. One such issue surrounds limited transport availability, absence of full-time medical staff in the detention centres and informal transactions for medicine.



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