A screenshot from the Times of Malta article showing two video stills taking from inside the Safi detention center on the island | Source: Screenshots from video published by the Times of Malta
A screenshot from the Times of Malta article showing two video stills taking from inside the Safi detention center on the island | Source: Screenshots from video published by the Times of Malta

A video published on the website of the Maltese newspaper Times of Malta shows footage purporting to be from inside the Safi military barracks on the island nation where migrants claim they are being held for months at a time. Conditions are so bad, some are begging to be allowed to return home.

"Peace be with you. I am in Malta. I am documenting the situation [for migrants detained] in the Safi military base," says a voice off camera in Arabic in the short video sent to the Times of Malta.

The video, which appears to have been filmed covertly on a cameraphone spans across rows of young north African and Arab men, many shirtless or sitting in their boxer shorts, crammed onto bunkbeds, swinging their legs, with not much to do.

At the beginning, text in English informs the viewer that "hundreds of asylum seekers" are "locked up in detention centers" like Safi, "often for months on end."

'I am going crazy'

The men we see in the video, the subtitles inform us, have all applied for asylum. But the two men who speak to the camera say they have been there for at least seven months with no answer. "I am going crazy," says one man who lists the inadequate conditions they are being kept in at the center.

Journalists are not allowed into the center, says the video text and most of the men have had their phones taken away from them. It is not clear how this man was able to film, but the Times of Malta write in their article that he is a "friend of the migrants, who no longer lives at the barracks," and that he recorded these "snippets of footage" on August 24 this year.Still showing migrants inside the Safi detention center on Malta | Screenshot from video published by the Times of MaltaThe men say there is a lack of hygiene, they are unable to see doctors, even when they request health checks and that a lack of nutritious food, clean clothes and water has led to "deteriorating mental and physical health" among many as well as "suicide attempts."'Many different nationalities here'

The voice of the filmmaker tells us that there are "many different nationalities here, Morrocan, Libyan, Egyptian, Arab youths." Some have been here for "11 months," some for "three months," some for six or seven months, says the narrator in Arabic.

Although they have applied for asylum, says the voice, they haven't been given an answer, or a "solution" or been allowed to return home. Basically, concludes the voice, their freedom has been curtailed.

"They brought us here and told us, stay for 14 days quarantine and then we will distribute you among the different places," says one slightly older looking man, lying on a mattress on the floor. He says he was "surprised" to find they were being held in a military barracks. He accuses the authorities of "locking them up" and "being violent with us."

Inadequate conditions

This man says he spent "months in Libya" and that the men only have one set of clothes. The men, he says who are shirtless are washing their one shirt and waiting for it to dry. He says "there are no toilets and nothing relating to health or hygiene."

He claims that his phone has been taken from him and he has no way of contacting his family. He says "no one will talk to us or give us a solution." Rescued migrants waiting to disembark in Senglea in Vallettas Grand Harbour on Malta July 27 2020  Photo REUTERS'No medical treatment'

A second man says he got to Malta through Libya. He came, he said to "improve his situation." He has some kind of skin condition, for which he has received no medical treatment or even advice. He lifts his vest to show marks on his torso.

"I have offered to voluntarily return to my country ... but they will not let me," says one Moroccan man in the video. He tells the camera that he arrived in Malta seven months ago and that things have got so bad for him that he has thought of suicide "several times." Saved only, he testifies, by his fellow migrants who "will not let him [commit suicide]."

'I am losing my mind'

"I am losing my mind," he says sadly looking down at the floor. "I want them to take me back to my parents," he adds, before concluding that the situation "is torture."

The Times of Malta also quotes an Egyptian man, not seen in the film on their website. He says he, like many others, had traveled to Libya "to find work," and then found themselves "caught in a human trafficking ring." He says the coronavirus restrictions prevented him from leaving the country and that he was in a "do-or-die situation," according to the Times of Malta. Man inside the Safi detention center in Malta showing his skin condition  Source Screenshots from video published by the Times of Malta

'Do-or-die situation'

"In Libya," the man tells the reporter, "they force you to work, or you end up on the streets and get killed." After four months working for no pay and only a little food, the man said they were "put on a boat and told to head to Italy or they would shoot and kill us. We had no money and no solutions, there was nothing for us to do."

The man registers his desperation. "I have young children and an old mother and father and I don’t know what I can do for them," he says. "So what do we do now?" he pleads.

The Times of Malta notes that these are not the first protests about conditions at the Safi detention center. Last December there was a riot and InfoMigrants reported protests in September 2019.

Previous protests

The inmates who rioted then told the Times of Malta that the situation inside the center was "a nightmare."

The Maltese Home Affairs Ministry told the Times of Malta that Malta was facing "greater pressure on the country’s migrant reception facilities," due to an "increase in the number of person arriving irregularly in Malta." It confirmed that it was working to "relocate and return as many irregular migrants as possible." The government's other main priority is to prevent the migrant arrivals in the first place.Migrants from the Talia cargo ship Migrants disembark at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, Malta, on July 8, 2020 | Photo: Picture-allianceGovernment response

The ministry went on to clarify that migrants were kept in closed centers only for a "temporary period," and that it was only "rejected asylum seekers [who] are held in a closed center;" however, according to the testimony of those in the video, these men have not been informed either way of the outcome of their asylum claim.

The ministry also said that all migrants were provided with "basic necessities," and "monitored by a group of nurses and doctors, a psycho-social team and social workers employed by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers."

Finally, the ministry said that there were "a number of telephone sets available inside the centers" which would allow the migrants the "opportunity to make local and international calls."

Based on an article by Jessica Arena for The Times of Malta.


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