A picture of the temporary containers and tents at the Hal Far camp for migrants on Malta | Photo: Anne-Diandra Louarn / InfoMigrants
A picture of the temporary containers and tents at the Hal Far camp for migrants on Malta | Photo: Anne-Diandra Louarn / InfoMigrants

One of Malta's largest migrant camps, Hal Far, was placed under quarantine on Sunday after eight migrants tested positive for the novel coronavirus over the last few days.

On Sunday, April 5, around 1,000 mainly African migrants resident at the Hal Far tent camp in Malta were placed under mandatory quarantine. The measure was implemented after eight migrants tested positive on Friday and Saturday.

According to the news agency Reuters, the camp was surrounded by police and army personnel to ensure compliance with the measures. The Maltese health ministry, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, stated in the newspaper Malta Independent that "this quarantine was being handled in the same way that every other case was handled."

'Treatment must be the same for everyone'

Fearne made it clear in the Malta Independent that the quarantine was "not a question of race, not a question of color or religion." He added that "treatment must be the same for everyone. Every person who has the virus will be treated with dignity and will receive all the medical treatment necessary."

In a statement on Sunday evening the newspaper The Times of Malta reported that Fearne said that all the migrants who had tested positive were now in isolation and that "medical presence at the open center had been increased."

Anyone at the camp who is classed as "medically vulnerable" were being "relocated for better protection and more focused care." The Times of Malta said that the Red Cross would continue to run a medical facility within the camp to help anyone who needed help.

Communication in several languages

The Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that everything had been done to communicate to the camp's residents that the measures were being taken "for their own good, to protect them and to protect society." He told residents that during the quarantine "they could not go to work." Camilleri also urged any employers of the residents to "not encourage [the migrants] to do so [work.]"

Anyone found to be breaking the quarantine, added Camilleri would be subject to a fine of 3,000 euros, just like everyone else resident on the island of Malta.

Fearne has appealed to all Maltese society "for discipline and focus to control the spread of the virus."

'A recipe for disaster'

The Nationalist Party in Malta (PN) said that the measures had "come too late" according to The Times of Malta. They said they had "warned about the dangers of the spread of the virus in such centers and in prison 10 days ago." They said the government had "hoped for the best but had not prepared for the worst, and now the worse was happening."

They called locking some 1,000 people in to tents and containers a "recipe for disaster."

Migration to Malta

So far in 2020 a total of 989 migrants have arrived by sea in Malta according to figures by the UN refugee agency UNHCR. In 2019 that figure stood at 3,406. Most migrant arrivals are housed in open centers and tent camps around the island. The majority of those arriving in Malta come from Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria.

In August, UNHCR said that there were just over 1,000 people resident at the Hal Far camp and just over 1,000 resident at the Safi detention center. There are a couple of smaller open centers and an initial reception center on the island too. In August 2019 these housed a couple of hundred people each.

In 2019, Malta offered some form of asylum, refugee status or subsidiary protection to about 19% of all first time applicants. The majority of those gaining protection were Syrians, even though they no longer make up the largest proportion of migrants arriving on the island.

COVID-19 guidelines for migrants

The majority of those arriving on the island in 2019 were men, making up 69% of the total. Women numbered just 5% of arrivals in 2019 and children (both accompanied and unaccompanied) accounted for 26%.

At the beginning of March UNHCR issued a number of guidelines regarding COVID-19 for migrants in Malta.

The information is available in several languages. They also created a Facebook and WhatsApp group for migrants with information on COVID-19.

They ask anyone experiencing symptoms to call the emergency number 111 or +356 111 if you have symptoms. The Maltese government registered 222 active cases of COVID-19 in Malta on April 5. Five people have so far recovered from the disease.


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