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UNHCR seeks review of Malta's detention policy

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that that it was shocked and saddened to hear that a Malian migrant, who arrived in Malta as an asylum seeker, has died while in the custody of detention staff.

"While UNHCR cannot comment on the specific circumstances of this tragic case, we add our voice to the call for justice to be served. We trust that the ongoing inquiry will assess all relevant responsibilities and identify accountabilities in a fair manner."

The UNHCR insisted that Malta's reception system is in dire need of a comprehensive policy review.

"The prevailing policy framework dates from 2005 - a time when Malta had much less experience with managing the arrival of asylum seekers. Since then, court decisions and multiple assessments by international bodies have confirmed the need to address various aspects of the detention system.

"In UNHCR's view, Malta should explore alternatives to the current detention arrangements. Whatever form such a system review could take, it should aim to urgently solve several key problems that can place asylum seekers and staff at risk.

"For us one urgent issue is that at the moment even vulnerable individuals, including children, are entering the regular detention system during the initial screening phase," said Jon Hoisaeter, Representative of UNHCR Malta.

The organisation said it is ready to provide further support to the Maltese Government in improving the reception system.

"Much can be achieved, even without additional resources. We urge the authorities to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in a joint effort towards achieving this goal."

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