Head of State: Edward Fenech-Adami
Head of government: Lawrence Gonzi
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 0.4 million
Life expectancy: 79.1 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 8/8 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 87.9 per cent

The Maltese authorities continued to detain migrants automatically on arrival to the island, contrary to their international obligations. They also failed to adequately protect people stranded at sea. The Council of Europe criticized Malta for its policies regarding detention of migrants.

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

Rescue obligations

The Maltese authorities failed to protect the right to life of people stranded at sea on at least two occasions.

  • On 21 May, officers in a Maltese Armed Forces aircraft spotted 53 people in a sinking boat approximately 88 nautical miles south of Malta. According to reports, it took 12 hours for a rescue vessel to reach the boat, by which time it had disappeared. The individuals on the boat, who may have been seeking international protection, reportedly managed to return to Libya where they were detained at the Al Zoura detention centre.
  • On 24 May, a Maltese fishing boat failed to take on board 27 migrants and asylum-seekers whose boat had sunk. The ship-master did allow them to hold onto a tuna cage to prevent them from drowning, and eventually let them on to the vessel. The Maltese authorities failed to rescue them or ensure their safety. They were finally rescued by an Italian vessel.


Malta continued its policy of automatically detaining migrants and asylum-seekers arriving in Malta, contrary to international laws and standards. At the end of June, approximately 3,000 migrants and asylum-seekers were detained in Malta, more than 1,300 of them in closed detention facilities.

Detention conditions remained poor, including at the Hal Far open migration detention centre, which migrants are allowed to leave, where up to 800 migrants were housed in approximately 25 tents, some of them with holes in them. Those living in the faulty tents were directly exposed to rain, wind and cold temperatures, leading to sleep deprivation and ill health. Those housed at the Hal Far centre included pregnant women. The Maltese authorities said they had no intention of replacing the tents with other structures.

NGO Médecins du Monde (MDM) reported that in August a heavily pregnant Somali woman had given birth in detention. It also said that those detainees who asked for a doctor and found not to be sick, are often punished with solitary confinement. The organization denounced the unhygienic conditions of detention centres.

International scrutiny

On 10 September 2007, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published its report to the Maltese government on the visit to Malta carried out in June 2005. The CPT noted that Malta still had a policy of systematically detaining all irregular migrants for up to a year and highlighted that unaccompanied minors are still held in detention centres, despite previous recommendations from the CPT to change this practice.

The CPT also said it was concerned that the appeals procedure against asylum decisions took place in private without the person whose case was being considered present. Since the decisions of the Refugees' Appeals Board were not open to appeal, the CPT recommended that it be mandatory to hear from the foreign national him/herself.

The CPT referred to the sanitary facilities at the Safi migration detention facility as "deplorable" and said it was in part overcrowded, with the majority of the centre unheated in winter.

The CPT stated that it had in the past clearly indicated that, at the Floriana Police Lock-Up (a detention facility within a police station), the dormitories for irregular migrants should be used for short stays only. However, at the time of its visit, 120 foreign nationals were nevertheless accommodated there for periods up to several months, in two badly overcrowded dormitories. Because of their general state of dilapidation, limited access to natural light and lack of an outdoor exercise yard, the CPT recommended these two dormitories no longer be used, even in emergencies.

The CPT asked the Maltese authorities to review the role of the armed forces in managing holding centres for irregular migrants. In the CPT's view, these centres should be managed by staff specially recruited and trained for that purpose. It also urged Malta to introduce guidelines regarding the removal of irregular migrants by air, and that these guidelines should be in line with the Council of Europe's Twenty Guidelines on Forced Return.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.