European Human Rights Court orders Malta to release children from detention

"This is not an immigration issue. This is about children” - Aditus


The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Malta to release seven children detained in the so-called ‘China House’ detention centre in Ħal Far.

In its ruling, published on Wednesday, the Court indicated that Malta should “ensure that the applicants’ conditions are compatible with Article 3 of the Convention and with their status as unaccompanied minors.”.

On 18 November 2022, 47 people were rescued and brought to Malta. Among them were seven children travelling without their parents or any responsible adult.

Following their disembarkation, they were immediately detained in the so-called ‘China House’ detention centre in Ħal Far. On 30 November, the police issued them all with detention orders.

On 6 December 2022, while reviewing their detention, the Immigration Appeals Board conducted a joint hearing of all 47 persons and issued a collective decision. Many of the migrants were not present for their detention hearing.

During this same review, six of the migrants declared that they were children. While the Board requested that legal guardians be appointed to safeguard their interests, it still stated that their detention was perfectly legal.

On 10 January, a month after the review, the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) had still not received any information about the children from either the Board or the Police.

When lawyers from the Aditus Foundation met with four minors on the same day at the Safi Detention Centre, the boys confirmed that they had informed several people about their age. Still, nobody had yet approached them to assess them. So instead, they remained detained at China House, with unrelated adult men in atrocious conditions, and deprived of any time outdoors.

“We were particularly upset to notice that two of the boys had already been referred by us to AWAS, flagging that two children in need of care and protection were being detained,” Aditus said in a statement.

Upon witnessing the situation’s urgency, the lawyers filed a request for interim measures before the European Court of Human Rights on 10 January, asking the Court to confirm that the detention of these children violated the Convention and requesting the Court to intervene for their release.

The Court upheld Aditus’ request for interim measures on the same day and ordered Malta “to ensure that the applicants’ conditions are compatible with Article 3 of the Convention and with their status as unaccompanied minors.”

Aditus Foundation Director Neil Falzon said, “Malta should stop detaining children,” adding, “This is not an immigration issue. This is about children.”

This interim measure follows another recent judgement by the ECtHR, published on 20 December, that found Malta breached the rights of a 23-year-old Bangladeshi journalist whose asylum request was repeatedly rejected by the International Protection Agency (IPA) without a proper assessment of his claim regarding the risks he would face if returned to his homeland.

The application for an interim measure to the Strasbourg Court and its decision may be found here.


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