Malta has been ordered to pay two Somali migrant women €10,000 in compensation after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that they were wrongfully denied the right to challenge their detention.
However, the ECHR rejected claims regarding further breaches of the women’s human rights, particularly that they were subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment while they were detained in Malta.
Saamiyo Moxamed Ismaaciil, 27, and Deeqa Abdirahman Warsame, 23, arrived in Malta by boat on August 16, 2012, and were taken to the Lyster Barracks De-tention Centre in Ħal Far.
They received two documents in English, one containing a return decision – stating they were prohibited immigrants in Malta “without means of subsistence and liable to become a charge on public funds” – and the other a removal order.
The contents of the decisions were not explained to them, even though they had told the authorities they were unable to understand the language.
In January 2013, the Refugee Commissioner informed them he had rejected their applications because they had failed to substantiate the claim that they were born and lived in Halane village in southern Somalia.
A month later, through lawyers from the Jesuit Refugee Service, they appealed, but by the time they took their case to the European Court – 11 months and three weeks later – no decision had been published.
The women complained about conditions at the “prison-like” facility that was “overcrowded, noisy and hard to keep clean”. They told the court there were 20 people in one dormitory and 95 people in the section, with only one fridge.
The heat was unbearable in summer and it was too cold in winter. They were always fed the same food and were only exposed to one hour of sunshine per day.
The women were both released from detention on August 14, 2013, before the outcome of their appeals. Both appeals were ultimately rejected.
The government denied the facilities were overcrowded and said the women had adequate bedding and were provided with three meals a day.
The court found that although detention persisted for almost 12 months, the cumulative effect of the conditions did not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. It said the women had been detained for 12 months but noted that this period “had a sufficiently clear legal basis”.
“While it is true that a period of nearly 12 months cannot but be considered lengthy, in the circumstances, and given the absence of inappropriate conditions of detention, the court can accept that such a duration was overall reasonable for the purpose pursued, despite the lack of procedural safeguards,” the court said.
The applicants claimed €50,000 in damages but were awarded €4,000 each, and €2,000 jointly to cover lawyers’ fees and expenses.