Human Rights Watch - ‘Stop detaining children’

Human Rights Watch called on Malta in a report released yesterday to end the blanket detention policy and stop detaining unaccompanied children.
Children should not be detained, and secondly, unaccompanied minors should not be detained with adult migrants not related to them, as these issues violate international law and leave them really vulnerable.

HRW insists that children need to be treated as children, in a safe place to recover, unless it is proved they are not children.
Human Rights Watch also released a YouTube video interview with a migrant who spoke of his experience after having arrived in Malta as a minor (
Malta’s policy of mandatory detention for migrants arriving by sea results in prolonged detention of unaccompanied children and other abuses of migrants’ rights, HRW said.
Research was carried out in Malta between February and May this year. Eighty-eight migrants and asylum seekers between the ages of 10 and 67 were interviewed. 
Its 50-page report, “Boat Ride to Detention: Adult and Child Migrants in Malta,” details treatment of migrants, typically from sub-Saharan Africa, who arrive in Malta after treacherous boat journeys across the Mediterranean, in unseaworthy boats, without enough food, water, or fuel. Upon arrival in Malta, virtually all irregular migrants are detained – and according to the NGO, the conditions in detention can exacerbate the trauma of the journey. The death of Mamadou Kamara, a 32-year-old Malian migrant who was found dead in a Detention Services van last month, and over which two soldiers are facing criminal charges, has increased concern over the island’s treatment of migrants.
In a protest walk last week, several migrants, local NGOs and Alternattiva Demokratika renewed their call for an end to the detention policy.
The message was unanimous: “The detention system is problematic in itself. If it does not change, problems will remain.”
“Malta’s automatic, indiscriminate, and blanket detention of migrants – including unaccompanied migrant children – is inhumane and unnecessary,” said Alice Farmer, researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at HRW. “It doesn’t deter migrants from coming to Malta and it violates international law.”
Since 2002, approximately 15,000 migrants have landed by boat in Malta, arriving without permission, or “irregularly.” Human Rights Watch’s report documents how Malta has detained virtually all of these migrants without regard to age. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are detained for up to 12 months, and migrants who do not apply for asylum (or who are rejected) can be detained for up to 18 months. Even the most vulnerable migrants – such as families with children, elderly people, and people with mental or physical disabilities – are taken to detention.
The report documents Malta’s routine detention of unaccompanied migrant children – who are often fleeing violence or conflict in countries such as Somalia and Eritrea – pending the outcome of a lengthy age determination procedure. If Malta determines that unaccompanied migrant children are under 18 – often only after a lengthy period in detention that can take a number of months– they are released to group homes for children.
Whereas most children who arrive with their families are quickly moved from detention facilities to open centres, unaccompanied migrant children (typically between 14 and 17) are detained for longer periods.
Among the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the average length of time spent in detention awaiting age determination was 3.4 months. Most unaccompanied migrant children travel without passports or other identifying documents, which may be impossible to obtain in their countries of origin. The Maltese government treats unaccompanied children who lack proof of their age as adults and detains them in adult facilities. Human Rights Watch interviewees relate being detained with children as young as 12.
“Malta should treat migrants who claim to be under age 18 as children until proven otherwise, and never detain them,” said Alice Farmer. “The fact that unaccompanied children, who have made long and dangerous trips without their parents or other caregivers, are locked up until they can prove they are children, demonstrates the brutality of the detention policy.”
Malta detains unaccompanied migrant children with unrelated adults while waiting for the outcome of the age determination procedure. Children are exposed to periodic violence in detention facilities, and those interviewed by Human Rights Watch related instances of exploitation. Abdi M., who was 17 years old when he was detained, narrated: “Every day a big man from Mali came and said, ‘Give me your food.’ And one day I said no, and he hit me. I was out on the floor (unconscious) for half an hour. I told the soldiers but they said, ‘We don’t care.’ No one helped me, I just cried and went to sleep.”
Malta’s policy of prolonged detention takes its toll on the mental health of adult and child migrants alike. Respected medical journals have stated that lengthy immigration detention correlates with higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and that detention exacerbates pre-existing symptoms, including mental trauma sustained while fleeing torture or persecution. Children and young people who are detained for extended periods of time are likely to experience feelings of isolation and detachment.
Kelile T., who also reported he was 17 when he arrived in Malta last year, was detained for nine months before he was hospitalised for 15 days for mental health treatment. After treatment, he was nonetheless returned to detention, he said. He described his experience: “I take medicine now, for sleep. No medicine, I can’t sleep … my mind is no good, it is very hard.… I can’t, I can’t ... this is a hard place. I need a free place.”
Malta justifies the detention policy by referring to European Union migration policies, including the Dublin II Regulation, which obliges the island to process all asylum seekers who arrive. Other EU states have also been slow to respond to calls by the European Commission to relocate recognised refugees from Malta to other parts of the EU; for example, in 2010-2011, only 228 migrants were relocated from Malta to other EU states. Nonetheless, Malta makes several other independent efforts to repatriate refugees and beneficiaries of Protection. Since 2007, 1,024 people embarked on a fresh journey to the United States, under the US Refugee Resettlement Programme.
Human Rights Watch continued that while EU policy together with greater flows through North Africa have undoubtedly put pressure on Malta’s migration system, the mandatory detention of irregular migrants is “neither a necessary nor justified response”.
It went on to point out that in July 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found that Malta’s detention of migrants was arbitrary, lacking in adequate procedures to challenge detention, and in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta has argued that this ruling applies only to the plaintiff in the case, Khaled Louled Massoud, an assertion rejected by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe.
In light of its findings, Human Rights Watch urges the Maltese government to:
• Limit detention of migrants to exceptional circumstances, with individualised determinations and access to procedures to challenge detention;
• Treat those who claim to be children as such pending the outcome of age determination proceedings, and not detain them while their ages are assessed; and
• Bring detention policies in line with standards articulated by the Council of Europe and provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights, namely by executing fully, effectively, and immediately the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Louled Massoud vs Malta, which found Malta’s detention of migrants arbitrary and in violation of the European Convention.
Meanwhile, it lists several recommendations to the government, particular ministries, the police immigration section, the detention services, the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, the Refugee Commissioner’s Office and the EU.
Human Rights Watch also renews its call on the EU to reform the Dublin II Regulation to permit more equitable burden-sharing among member states.
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