The Malta Independent 3 August 2020, Monday

Watch: Unrest at Safi barracks as migrants demand freedom, set mattresses on fire

Neil Camilleri Monday, 9 September 2019, 11:58 Last update: about 12 months ago

Several migrants who are currently being housed at the Safi Detention Centre scaled fences and set mattresses on fire yesterday morning, as they demanded to be released.

The protest started at around 10.30am, with several police and army units being called up to deal with the disturbance.

Around 20 migrants shouted and banged on the fence in one part of the complex. They held up placards with messages such as ‘Freedom’, ‘This is not detention’ and ‘No Justice in Malta.’ Some of the migrants scaled up the fence, stopping just short of the barbed wire on top, and screamed ‘Freedom’ at the detention staff and police watching from below.


At one point, loud crashes could be heard coming from another part of the detention centre, and a number of mattresses and other objects were set on fire.

Around 15 police cars were seen on site, together with ambulances and a fire engine. The fires were extinguished by members of the Civil Protection Department.

Detention Service staff were seen entering the complex and it is understood that they tried to calm the migrants down.

A heavy police presence developed outside the fence, but the police, some dressed in riot gear, stood off while other officials tried to diffuse the situation in calmer ways.

Officers were seen armed with tear-gas launchers and plasti-cuffs.

At around 1.30pm the protestors stopped to pray and the situation seemed to have calmed down, but a short while later the shouting and fires resumed.

An emergency doctor at the scene said no injuries had been reported by 2pm.

This was the second such protest in a few days.

Sources said the protest was held after the migrants received no replies to letters they had given the prison guards to hand over to the authorities. Asylum seekers brought to Malta are currently held in detention centres for medical screening.

Last week, 34 civil society organizations have lashed out at the “unlawful” detention of asylum seekers on medical grounds at detention centres in Malta.

“National law allows the health authorities to restrict an individual’s movement for medical screening for a period not exceeding four weeks, which may be exceptionally extended up to ten weeks for the purpose of finalising any tests that may be necessary,” they said.

“The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that in order to be considered lawful, detention must always be justified on an individual basis, implemented in good faith, and used only for as long as strictly necessary. At this point, there are asylum seekers who have been deprived of their liberty on the pretext of health checks – consisting essentially of a single test to screen for active TB – for periods ranging from a few days to 13 weeks from disembarkation,” they said.

Several hundred of these, some of them children, have been detained for 8 weeks or more, which is way more than the time needed to conduct this test even for such a large number of people. Possibly worse is the fact that no one has told them for how long they will be detained and that there are no accessible effective remedies to challenge their detention, the organizations said.

The NGOs said the migrants are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions, with almost no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity, hardly any contact with the outside world, limited access to open air, and a severe shortage of basic material necessities. “In these conditions it is not surprising that tension is building in the centres, as people are worn down by the uncertainty and the strain of their prolonged and arbitrary detention,” they said.

Photos and video: Neil Camilleri/Michael Camilleri


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