Malta’s location in the Mediterranean has made it a common port of arrival for thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who set off from the coast of Libya towards Europe. They are then kept for up to 18 months in detention centres where they face overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and poor living conditions. This environment often has damaging effects on their physical and mental health. MSF has been treating patients both within and outside the detention centres.
Between January and October 2009, more than 1,150 migrants and asylum seekers landed in Malta, more than half of whom were Somali. Many were already suffering from psychological problems as a result of their often traumatic experiences in their home countries and their journeys to Malta. Most migrants have spent days on boats exposed to the sun and rain, unable to move, and with limited supplies of food and water, conditions that can cause skin, gastrointestinal, urinary and musculoskeletal health problems. Poor living conditions in the detention centres and uncertainty about the future also contribute to a high incidence of mental health problems.
At the start of 2009, teams were providing medical and psychological care for migrants inside two detention centres known as the Safi and Lyster Barracks. By March 2009, nearly 20 per cent of conditions diagnosed by medical staff were respiratory problems linked to exposure to cold and lack of treatment for infections. After repeated attempts to push authorities to take steps to improve matters, MSF withdrew from the centres, and in April published a report exposing the appalling conditions endured by migrants in Maltese detention centres.
After further negotiations with the Maltese authorities, MSF established a temporary programme inside the detention centre in Takandja. Here, between June and December, MSF provided more than 1,600 medical consultations. By the end of the year, MSF was phasing down the activities in Takandja.
In 2009, MSF also ran a clinic in Hal Far in the south of Malta, where migrants and asylum seekers outside the detention centres could have access to medical and psychological care. After their release from detention, migrants and asylum seekers are given a place in one of 15 open centres on the island. Although they can move freely and begin to build a new life on the island, integration into Maltese society remains difficult. Living conditions are still poor, as many centres are overcrowded and lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. MSF teams organise health and hygiene promotion activities in the open centres.
Throughout 2009, MSF provided more than 4,200 medical consultations and more than 780 mental health consultations for migrants and asylum seekers in Malta, both in detention centres and at the clinic in Hal Far.
MSF has worked here since:2008