The International Detention Coalition joins civil society groups and UNHCR in welcoming a commitment of the Prime Minister of Malta to end the detention of children in the country.

A group of NGOs including IDC members, aditus and JRS Malta, released a press release on 31 March welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement, which was made on the occasion of Freedom Day 2014, as “an important first step in the process to revise the current reception regime to provide the appropriate shelter, care and on-going support to children reaching our shores” and state that they are also keen to explore how we can support any initiatives, programmes and procedures necessary for effectively implementation

The press release points out that: “Although Malta’s national policy on migration and asylum already clearly states that children should not be detained, children reaching Malta by boat are in fact detained on arrival. In some cases it is for a few days, but in many other cases children are detained for months, without any provision for special care, education, protection or support, including while a decision is taken regarding their claim to minor age in the case of unaccompanied or separated children. In most cases these were children who were forced to flee their homes with their families or alone due to war or persecution, living through experiences no child should go through”.

UNHCR welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement, saying: «The Prime Minister has signalled a change that will have a direct impact on the well-being of vulnerable children. UNHCR will continue to work with the relevant Maltese authorities to contribute to further improvements to the system.»

Malta’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers and migrants has been heavily criticised by civil society and the international community. As Human Right Watch has pointed out (see link below):  The UN Committee on the Right of the Child,  along with the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance and Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for RefugeesHuman Rights Watch, and leading Maltese NGOs,  have all criticized Malta’s detention policy.

In September 2013, UNHCR published a comprehensive legal analysis of the current reception system in Malta, raising concerns about the use of detention, including for children:

Worldwide, there is growing recognition that children should never be detained merely because they or their parents, guardians or family members do not have legal status in a country. In 2013, the UN Committee on the Right of the Child called on states to “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status”. Regardless of the reasons for detention or the conditions in which children are held, a number of studies have shown that detention has a profound and negative impact on child health and development. Even very short periods of detention can undermine child psychological and physical well-being and compromise their cognitive development. The IDC is working with its members, partners and governments to end the immigration detention of children worldwide.

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