Life and order in detention centres
Both the government and the police acted swiftly in reaction to the sad news that a Malian illegal immigrant, who had just been recaptured after escaping from the Safi detention centre, was certified dead in a Detention Service van outside the Paola health centre on Friday night.
In less than 48 hours, the police, on Sunday evening, arraigned three soldiers, two of whom were charged with the migrant’s murder and the other with perverting the course of justice.
Then, on Monday, the Prime Minister ordered an inquiry. He appointed a judge to look into the case and make any recommendations he deemed fit.
But not only. The Prime Minister referred to the conclusions reached and the recommendations made by another board of inquiry into the escape and death of a Nigerian migrant in April last year. He instructed the judge to determine what stage had the implementation of the recommendations reached and what impact they have had on the Detention Service.
It must be pointed out here that, in sharp contrast with the Malian migrant’s death, nobody was arraigned in connection with the death of the Nigerian, even if the government says four detention officers and a soldier were “directly involved in the demise”. The problem seems to have been the magisterial inquiry, which had still to be concluded.
It emerged yesterday that the inquiring magistrate was awaiting a “crucial” report on tests that were carried out overseas. This report is now in the magistrate’s possession and the inquiry is expected to be concluded soon.
Once that happens, the governmment would be expected to release the full report of the inquiry immediately. The police should also be in a better position to decide how best to proceed.
Still, the government was not justified in refusing to publish the full report before the magisterial inquiry was closed. More so when the inquiry board felt it should lose no time in making certain submissions so that the authorities would do what needs to be done to address, as far as possible, the various shortcomings that were identified.
To be fair, the government had listed the board’s “main observations” but, certainly it would have done more justice to the inquiry board had the whole report been published.
Some action seems to have been taken but a lot more needs to be done. In fact, the Prime Minister, who is now responsible for home affairs, felt he should tell the board of inquiry headed by the judge to determine what has in fact been done since then.
The rule of law demands that one should await the outcome of the court process before commenting on the behaviour of individuals, be they members of the Armed Forces of Malta or Detention Service personnel. But, looking at the bigger picture, it is evident that a lot of work still has to be done in terms of the running of the Detention Service, training of personnel, rules of engagement and procedures to be followed in given delicate situations.
As the flow of illegal immigrants continues, the problems are likely to become bigger and, therefore, the state of preparedness of the relevant authorities and personnel must be top-notch, otherwise there could be more tragic consequences.
Riots, serious fights, suicides and protests at detention centres underscore how bad and delicate the situation is. What happened last weekend rubs salt into an already festering wound. That is why meaningful action must be taken urgently to transmit the right signals and allay fears.