UNHCR concerned about fire at reception centre, calls for urgent action on detention conditions

UNHCR Malta press statement on recent fire that broke out at centre for asylum-seekers.

UNHCR Malta Press Statement
Thursday 9th January 2020

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the fire that broke out at the Initial Reception Centre in Marsa on Wednesday 8th January 2020.

It is a relief that there were no serious injuries. We thank the staff of the government Agency for the Welfare of Asylum-Seekers (AWAS) and emergency services for acting swiftly to make sure everyone was safe. There are currently around 450 asylum-seekers residing at the centre, including around 180 children.

While condemning all forms of violence and vandalism, we reiterate that detaining people, including children, for prolonged periods has a detrimental effect on mental and physical wellbeing. The substandard conditions in the centres contribute to the feeling of frustration among asylum-seekers, many of whom arrived in Malta after having experienced inhumane treatment when fleeing their country and on their journey. Detention of asylum-seekers in a manner that is not within strict legal basis needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.

We also call for responsible discourse when discussing issues related to asylum-seekers and refugees and remind everyone the importance of avoiding inflammatory rhetoric.

The increase of sea arrivals in Malta has strained the asylum system, particularly the reception space in open and closed centres. UNHCR has repeatedly emphasised that countries such as Malta, located at the external borders of the EU, need practical solidarity and support from other EU countries, including the establishment of predictable and effective mechanisms for disembarkation and relocation of asylum-seekers.

In the meantime, UNHCR calls on the Government to take urgent action in tackling the conditions, and increase capacity to mitigate the situation of overcrowding. The situation in the centres has been tense for several months now and it is clear that a rapid solution needs to be found as the status quo is untenable.

UNHCR stands ready to support the Maltese Government and local authorities when requested.