‘Misguided’ statistics for migrant children
The 3.6 months spent in detention on average by child migrants interviewed by Human Rights Watch “absolutely does not reflect current statistics”, the government said yesterday.
The Home Affairs Ministry said that the figure quoted in the HRW report on detention in Malta, released on Wednesday, was “totally misguided”.
“On average, it takes 18 days to determine each request and secure the release of a person who has been positively identified as a minor,” the ministry said.
This includes the time taken for medical clearance from the health authorities.
HRW interviewed 21 migrants who claimed they were children when they entered Malta as part of its report entitled Boat Ride to Detention: Adult and Child Migrants in Malta.
These interviewees arrived in Malta between 2008 and 2011. The longest period any of them spent in detention was seven months (in 2011). Interviews were carried out between February and May this year.
In its report, HRW called for the government to treat all migrants who claim to be under 18 as children until their age is verified.
Migrants who say they are under 18 when they arrive are held in adult detention centres if the authorities are unsure of their age while a verification process is carried out by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS).
Of the 1,065 people who landed in Malta irregularly since the start of this year, 175 have claimed to be minors, of which 46 have been issued with a care order.
AWAS has processed and determined all of these cases, except for 12 of the latest arrivals, which are being processed this week, the ministry said.
Confirmed child migrants are placed into childrens’ homes run by AWAS.
A ministry spokesman told The Times that an Age Assessment Team is used when the authorities are unsure if a migrant is under 18.
This is made up of a social worker, a psychology officer and a co-ordinator with a background in social work.
A paediatrician is rarely used as most of the cases involve older teenagers, the spokesman said.
“Scientific tests” are carried out if the Age Assessment Team cannot be sure of a migrant’s age.
The HRW report stated that unaccompanied children are detained pending an age determination test if they appear to be over 12, approximately.
The ministry spokesman disputed this, saying AWAS “always errs on the side of caution. The recognition rate (of children) is high”. Unaccompanied minors and other “vulnerable” migrants including women with children, pregnant women, elderly people and disabled people are not supposed to be subject to detention once the necessary medical clearances are granted.
However, the Home Affairs Ministry said: “It is not uncommon for migrants to claim that they pertain to one of the categories outlined above to secure their early release.”
HRW believes even if this is the case, it is inhumane to punish genuine children by locking them up with adults pending their age verification.
The report documented incidents of bullying and mental anguish suffered by children held in adult detention centres.
The ministry spokesman said the Detention Service immediately refers instances of serious violence between migrants directly to the police and steps are taken in court when necessary against the perpetrators.