Malta Human Rights

Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers's rights

Rescue at sea

The authorities failed to adequately protect the lives of migrants and asylum-seekers rescued at sea. The Maltese and Italian governments disagreed over which country was responsible for search and rescue operations, which led to delays in responding to distress calls.

On 16 April, a Turkish cargo ship, Pinar, rescued an estimated 140 people whose boat was at risk of sinking in waters south of Sicily. The ship was prevented from reaching either a Maltese or Italian port because neither country would accept responsibility for the people rescued. The individuals were left stranded for four days with insufficient food and water and forced to sleep on the deck of the ship. They were eventually allowed to disembark at Porto Empedocle, Italy, on 20 April.

On 30 April, a Maltese coastguard vessel was prevented by the Italian authorities from disembarking 66 migrants and possible asylum-seekers on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The individuals were rescued by a Tunisian fishing boat and transferred to the Maltese vessel while in Malta's search and rescue zone as designated by international conventions. Despite this, the Maltese authorities initially refused to assist or disembark the migrants and asylum-seekers on Maltese territory. The migrants and asylum-seekers were eventually admitted to Malta.


In January, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns about the legal basis for detention of migrants and asylum-seekers. The Working Group noted that detention is automatic and mandatory for all irregular migrants, including asylum seekers; the maximum length of detention is not defined in law and its duration is often not related to individual case assessments.

In practice, the government has applied a maximum one-year detention period for asylum seekers whose applications are pending. Rejected asylum-seekers and all irregular migrants who have not been forcibly returned to their home countries or to third countries after 18 months' detention are generally released.

Decisions regarding asylum applications and detention can only be challenged before the Immigration Appeals Board, which is not part of the judiciary. This contravenes Article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for automatic judicial review of detention.

Conditions in detention remained poor. In Hal Far Centre, more than 500 people were living in tents. The authorities opened a new detention facility in Ta'Kandja and renovated part of the Lyster Centre.

Malta Newsroom

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 21, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Malta 2013

Republic of Malta Head of state George Abela Head of government Lawrence Gonzi Detention for up to 18 months remained mandatory for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, and safeguards to challenge …

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Malta 2010

Head of state George Abela (replaced Edward Fenech- Adami in April) Head of government Lawrence Gonzi Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes Population .4 million Life expectancy 79.6 years Under-5 …

January 9, 2019 • Press Release

“Dangerous and unseemly spectacle” must spur action to save lives at sea in the EU

Following news of the disembarkation of 49 men, women and children stranded at sea for 19 days while their requests for safe harbor were refused, Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Southern …

November 16, 2018 • Press Release

Libya: Refugees and migrants refuse to disembark ship in desperate plea to avoid detention and torture

Libyan, European and Panamanian authorities must ensure that at least 79 refugees and migrants who are on board a merchant vessel at the port of Misratah are not forced to …

August 14, 2018 • Press Release

Italy/Malta: Stop playing with refugee and migrants’ lives by closing ports

Responding to news that the authorities in Italy and Malta have closed their ports to Aquarius MV, a rescue ship run by SOS Mediterranee, with 141 people aboard, including 73 …

August 7, 2018 • Press Release

Surging death toll in Central Mediterranean laid squarely at Europe’s door

The number of people drowning in the Central Mediterranean or being taken back to squalid detention centres in Libya has surged as a result of European policies aimed at closing …

June 12, 2018 • Press Release

Italy/Malta: Forcing Aquarius to Valencia undermines search and rescue system and sets deadly precedent

As the SOS Mediterranee rescue ship, MV Aquarius, heads to the Spanish port of Valencia, Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Italy Researcher said: “By closing their ports the Italian and …

June 11, 2018 • Press Release

Italy/Malta: Stranded refugees and migrants must be immediately allowed to dock

As the SOS Mediterranee rescue ship, MV Aquarius remains stranded between Malta and Sicily with 629 people aboard including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women, Elisa De …