The list of those condemning Malta’s automatic detention of migrants and asylum seekers, including children, keeps growing and growing.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance and Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch, and leading Maltese NGOs all criticize the inhumane and arbitrary policy. The European Court of Human Rights has issued judgments against Malta not once, not twice, but three times. The last two European Court rulings make clear that Malta needs to undertake general reforms to its immigration detention system.
But this week the government in Malta announced that it would appeal the latest European Court rulings. When will they listen to reason?
Every year, thousands of migrants take perilous, sometimes fatal boat journeys across the Mediterranean, seeking new lives in Europe. To its credit, Malta rescues people from these boats when they go into distress. But Malta places virtually all of these migrants—many of whom are fleeing violence or persecution—in detention. They can’t challenge their detention—in violation of European and international law.
Welcome to Europe.
Malta has taken some steps to improve its detention policies and has started a government review of detention. But still, Malta routinely detains unaccompanied migrant children pending age assessment. Even though these kids travel without parents or other guardians to protect them, Malta locks them up with unrelated adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Children should never be locked up for immigration reasons, according to the world’s leading body on children’s rights. Yet that’s exactly what Malta’s doing.
There’s no question that the numbers of people willing to try this treacherous crossing is growing. And there’s no question that Malta, located at the frontier of the EU, takes on a large number of migrants compared to the tiny size of the country. But Malta has—and uses—open reception centers for certain migrants. Why not do that for everyone? The current detention regime isn’t the answer—as these authoritative bodies keep saying.
Listen to the chorus, Malta. They’re singing loud and clear.