Immigration: 89 Arrivals The Day After Frontex Resumes

Immigration: 89 arrivals the day after Frontex resumes

Raphael Vassallo
Malta Today
September 13, 2007

A total of 118 irregular migrants entered Maltese territory over the past 24 hours, just one day after Nautilus II, the second EU-coordinated Frontex mission, recommenced on Monday.

Of these, 89 made it to shore in two separate boatloads under surveillance by the Armed Forces, and are now in detention. The boats were separately escorted by AFM patrol boats into Wied il-Buni, Birzebbugia, at 4.00am and 2.40pm respectively.

Among the asylum seekers were eight women, two children and one baby.

An AFM spokesman told this newspaper that the second boatload of immigrants which landed at Birzebbugia yesterday afternoon, consisting of 21 men, six women and two children, was first spotted by the Armed Forces at around 2pm when already almost at Delimara point.

You could say they almost made it to shore under their own steam, the spokesman said. Six of them were wearing life-jackets, and all were in a good state of health.

Meanwhile an additional 29 immigrants three of them women were also being monitored while sailing northward towards Italy in rough conditions yesterday evening. At the time of going to print it was unclear whether the passengers would be apprehended by the AFM and brought to Malta, or allowed safe passage to proceed towards their destination of choice.

What is known is that at approximately 6pm, one of the passengers used a mobile phone to contact a resident at the Marsa Open Centre, who in turn informed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees 3

(UNHCR). According to the UNHCRs Neil Falzon, eight of the 29 passengers were believed to be in need of some kind of medical help.

However, Falzon explained that unless the asylum seekers actually requested assistance, the AFM were powerless to intervene. But we will be closely following their moments to make sure they reach their destination in safety, Falzon said.

Asked how this latest influx reflects the impact of Frontex missions, which got under way last Monday with the participation of more EU member states than before, the UNHCR head of office replied: Frontex was successful in reducing the number of migrants to reach Malta this summer. But this only raises other questions. What is happening to the immigrants who dont make it here? Are they being taken to Italy instead? Are they being turned back to Libya? Or are they somewhere else?

Falzon also warned that the increasing numbers of immigrants is bound to place further stress on an already beleaguered detention policy, confirming in the process that the Safi and Lyster Barracks are once again overcrowded as they usually are in summer.

I was at Safi on Friday and the Lyster barracks recently, Falzon continued. The situation is very serious. Overcrowding is visible at a glance. Many people are currently sleeping on the floor because all the available beds are taken up. Many desperately need medical assistance, for first aid, follow-up treatment and for psychological problems. But the medical services are not coping with the sheer numbers.

Falzon added that the unhygienic conditions caused by overcrowding create a veritable breeding ground for contagious diseases.

The inferior standards of medical service at Maltese detention centres was also the subject of a forceful report compiled recently by Medecins du Monde, a French NGO which like the local and international media was denied access to the closed detention centres.

Among the more shocking revelations made by MdM was that persons in detention were only permitted two hours worth of open-air exercise in a whole week.

The Justice Ministry later issued a statement to rebut this claim, arguing that persons in detention were actually given three hours a week, not just two, for outdoor exercise, Falzon was quick to point out. But even if this is true, three hours a week is still totally inappropriate.

Both MdM and UNHCR concur that the above state of affairs results directly in problems such as stress, aggression, depression and a host of other psychological disorders.

On a more positive note, Neil Falzon also observed that the procedure to release vulnerable persons from detention has improved. However, it still needs to be strengthened to deal with the increasing numbers and the challenges ahead, he concluded.