MSF suspends activities in detention centres for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Malta

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls for minimum standards in the reception of migrants and asylum seekers, as set out in European legislation, and denounces the systematic detention of asylum seekers and vulnerable groups of migrants such as pregnant women and children

The international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced today the suspension of its emergency projects in the three detention centres for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Malta.

The decision follows a series of requests to Maltese authorities to improve living conditions and healthcare services in these centres. Unless urgent action is taken, MSF feels unable to effectively carry out its independent medical humanitarian action inside the detention centres. MSF however remains present on the island, supporting migrants and asylum seekers in the existing open centres and providing medical care to new arrivals.

Since the beginning of its activities in Malta, in August 2008, MSF has witnessed the unacceptable conditions in centres where migrants and asylum seekers are kept as detainees: men, women and children sharing the same living areas; overcrowding; insufficient beds; broken windows and deplorable sanitation. These conditions are a threat to the physical and mental health of the migrants and asylum seekers, more than half of whom come from countries struck by open conflict, persecution and widespread violation of human rights.

Since last August, MSF has carried out nearly 3,200 medical consultations and 266 individual psychological sessions in Malta. Many health problems encountered among the detainees- such as musculoskeletal pain, urinary and skin infections - are a result of the harsh journey to reach the island and could be exacerbated by unacceptable living conditions in the detention centres.

Overcrowding and a lack of appropriate isolation areas for patients with infectious diseases are a further threat to the health to the migrants and asylum seekers. For five months, MSF followed the status of 60 individuals who arrived at the centres in good health. Throughout this period, 65 cases of disease, such as scabies, chicken pox and respiratory tract infections were diagnosed within the group. These could all have been avoided.

"Once they get sick, detainees have little access to care. The system provided by the Maltese authorities does not guarantee adequate medical care, efficient supply of medicines or proper follow up of more severe illnesses such as measles, tuberculosis or chicken pox," said Philippa Farrugia, MSF doctor in Malta.

MSF calls on the Maltese and European authorities to take urgent measures to ensure minimum reception standards for migrants and asylum seekers in Malta, as set out in Maltese and European legislation. These should include the improvement of living conditions, the establishment of a system of appropriate medical care, a pharmacy in the centres to guarantee the delivery of drugs and adequate isolation areas for patients with infectious diseases. MSF also strongly denounces the detention of asylum seekers and vulnerable groups of migrants such as pregnant women, sick people and children.

"Despite MSF's repeated requests to the Maltese authorities to improve reception standards, and even in light of the massive arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers during the second half of 2008 and early 2009, nothing has changed in six months,” said Giuseppe De Mola, MSF’s project coordinator. “This is why MSF has decided to suspend its activities in the detention centres and to continue to work in the existing open centres."