REPUBLIC OF MALTA
Head of state: Edward Fenech-Adami
Journalists, human rights activists and others were subjected to arson attacks for speaking out against racism. Irregular migrants continued to be subject to a policy of automatic detention. Conditions in migrant detention centres were harsh and insanitary, and came in for criticism by the European Union (EU).
Overt racism continued to increase. The non-governmental coalition, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), noted that debate in the news media and on the Internet was increasingly hostile towards immigrants and that racist attacks and hate speech were on the rise.
Arson attacks targeted individuals or organizations that actively worked to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees or denounced racist and discriminatory attitudes and actions in Maltese society. Racist speech and attacks appeared to find increasing legitimacy within Maltese society.
• In early March the house of a poet was set on fire in an arson attack just a few days after he launched a book of poetry promoting tolerance and refugee rights.
• On 13 March, seven cars belonging to the Catholic Church's Jesuit Community were destroyed by fire at night, shortly before publication of the Report on Racism and Xenophobia in Malta by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The Jesuit Community is EUMC's partner in Malta. On 11 April a car belonging to a lawyer working with the Jesuit Refugee Service was set alight and destroyed.
• On 3 May the editor of the weekly Malta Today newspaper had his house torched by arsonists. He had published an editorial on racism and immigration shortly before the attack.
• On 13 May the home of a journalist from the daily newspaper, The Malta Independent, who had denounced the extreme right and written about racism and immigration, was attacked. In the early hours, arsonists leaned five burning tyres filled with petrol against her back door. Smashed glass and petrol were spread on the road in front of the house, in an apparent attempt to prevent her family escaping or to block help arriving.
Migrants and asylum-seekers
Malta maintained its automatic detention policy for irregular migrants. On arrival they are held in closed detention centres for up to 18 months and later transferred to open centres. The policy clearly violates international human rights laws and standards. Migrants were detained without first having a proper medical screening, potentially putting the health of other detainees and detention centre staff at risk. Non-governmental organizations and journalists were still not allowed access to migrant detention centres.
Four administrative detention centres for asylum-seekers and migrants were in deplorable condition and failed to meet legally binding international standards, the EU Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs reported in March. A delegation of the Committee, visiting four detention centres, found that the Hal-Safi detention centre "was like a cage", without sheets on the beds, broken and dirty mattresses, and no heating. Hygiene conditions were intolerable, with broken showers, no hot water, and toilets without doors and in a state of disrepair. At the Hal-Far centre, delegates found high levels of mosquitoes and rat infestation, and appalling conditions in bathrooms. Some residents who had fled the Darfur region of Sudan said their asylum applications had been rejected on the grounds that "they could have moved to safer areas of the country". At the Lyster Barracks centre, there were only two functioning toilets for more than 100 people, no provision of sanitary towels for women, and no area outside for fresh air and exercise, the Committee reported.
The Domestic Violence Act came into force in February, and the Commission on Domestic Violence created under the Act was set up in March. The Commission's responsibilities and competencies include awareness-raising; developing and outlining strategies to identify problems of domestic violence so as to offer better protection to victims; suggesting areas for research; educating the general public; and identifying training for professional groups. The Commission is required to publish an annual report.