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Malian’s mental problems ‘started when in detention’

Police at Għar Ħasan after the shooting incident last Friday.

Police at Għar Ħasan after the shooting incident last Friday.

A Malian man critically injured last Friday when he was shot at by police officers first started exhibiting signs of psychiatric problems while in detention, a number of migrants who knew him have said.

Bit by bit he moved some items into the cave – things like a pot and pan – but he was living at Ħal Far

Suleiman Samake, 26, was involved in a skirmish with a number of police officers last Friday. The officers were investigating reports of a man living in a cave by Għar Hasan.

Mr Samake is said to have reacted aggressively towards the officers, at one point waving a nine-inch knife in their direction. According to Police Commissioner John Rizzo, officers were forced to fire on Mr Samake when efforts to quell him using pepper spray and warning shots proved futile. An inquiry into the case is underway.

Allegations that Mr Samake had a history of psychiatric disorders – there are unconfirmed reports that he previously underwent treatment at Mount Carmel mental hospital – have now been confirmed by Ali Konate, a spokesman for the Migrant Network for Equality.

“Everyone who knew him knew about his mental problems. He was suspicious of people and didn’t like being near others. He didn’t have any friends – he’d say hello or goodbye but that was it,” said Mr Konate, who like Mr Samake hails from Mali.

According to a number of people who knew Mr Samake from his arrival in Malta, sometime in 2008, his mental problems began when he was held in detention.

Mr Konate said: “People who’ve known him since those days have told me that he was fine before that. It all started in detention.”

Malta’s mandatory detention policy, through which irregular migrants landing on Maltese shores are detained for up to 18 months while their asylum application is being processed, has attracted strident criticism from human rights bodies both nationally and internationally.

The policy has been described as amounting to “inhuman and degrading treatment” by a Council of Europe committee, while a 2010 report by the Jesuit Refugee Service found that 80 per cent of those detained complained of deterioration in their mental health due to detention.

Despite the criticism, Malta’s detention policy enjoys widespread political support, with both major political parties having gone on the record defending the policy, saying migrant influxes necessitate control. A recent UN report found that Malta has the highest per capita influx of asylum seekers in the world.

Initial reports on Mr Samake suggested he had been living rough in the Għar Hasan caves. But Mr Konate said that according to his sources, Mr Samake lived at the Ħal Far open centre and used to go to the caves to pray.

“Bit by bit he moved some items into the cave – things like a pot and pan – but he was living at Ħal Far.”

He also noted how Mr Samake was hampered by communication difficulties, saying the injured Malian – who is currently at Mater Dei hospital – only spoke Malian and very little French.

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