Malta: Ombudsman criticises police use of handcuffs on immigrants


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Ombudsman on immigrants at Mt Carmel - Use of handcuffs "despicable"

The Ombudsman yesterday condemned the practice of handcuffing illegal immigrants who needed to leave their detention centre and insisted these people were not criminals.

"This is a despicable and degrading act towards a person who has not been accused of committing a crime and it certainly does not help those who are suffering from depression," Ombudsman Joseph Sammut said. "Handcuffs should only be used in cases of a difficult person," he said.

Mr Sammut's comments were made in a report he drew up on illegal immigrants in Mount Carmel Hospital, at the request of Joe Mifsud, the Labour Party's international secretary. Mr Mifsud had tried to visit the illegal immigrants detained at the hospital over Christmas, but was refused entry by the police, even though he had the necessary permission.

Following this refusal, Mr Mifsud wrote to the Ombudsman asking him to visit these illegal immigrants and investigate their condition. The Labour Party yesterday released the Ombudsman's report to the media.

While recognising that the illegal immigrants were treated well and they preferred the hospital to a detention centre, Mr Sammut noted that their situation could be better. He recognised that these people did not suffer from chronic mental health problems and the main reason behind their depression was being left in the dark about their status and being detained indefinitely.

Mr Sammut also spoke about the strict police surveillance of illegal immigrants at the hospital. He questioned the need to have five policemen standing around 24 hours a day, because the nurses insisted on their presence "just in case something happened".

He suggested that the police could be better utilised by watching over the illegal immigrants doing exercise in a garden close to the ward, or allowing them to use the hospital's gym. Another recommendation he put forward was that a qualified person should be appointed to regularly update the immigrants on their status.

Voluntary organisations should also be encouraged to visit the immigrants because they could be instrumental in helping them deal with personal problems. This should be done after those who wish to visit submit a request to an official chosen by the Police Commissioner and are given permission in a controlled way, yet without unnecessary bureaucracy, Mr Sammut suggested.
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