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Letters • January 18 2004

Detainees are well looked after - police

Inspector Kenneth Haber
Community Media Relations Unit
Malta Police

I refer to the article which appeared in MaltaToday, the 11 January 2004, page 3, written by Matthew Vella, entitled ‘Asylum centres hurt Gulia’s eyes, but Labour agrees with detention.’
The Hon Dr Gavin Gulia was quoted as referring to the Hal-Far detention centre as a "concentration camp." Although it is true that this is a place of detention, it certainly is not correct in equating it to a concentration camp. As in all other detention centres, there is no military discipline imposed at Hal-Far save for that by which detainees have to conduct themselves properly and as required.
Like all other centres, Hal-Far is a place in which detainees are treated with the highest form of respect and dignity.
This is not the first time the members of the corps have taken care of the needs of these people through their own personal involvement, as Dr Gulia was informed by the same illegal immigrants. For the whole duration of their sojourn, these persons are provided with all the basic necessities such as food, personal hygiene products, health services, cigarettes, and telephone services, albeit sometimes these services are sometimes used against the very police that take care of them.
Religious services are also provided for in these centres, for Catholics and other religions. It has to be said that these centres are also equipped with a large yard in which detainees can exercise themselves or enjoy the air outside, if they want.
It was said that in these detention centres there is no television, books or newspapers. I would like to inform the public that this is not correct. Every detention centre the Hon. Member visited is equipped with a colour television. Even in the case of the Hal-Far detention centre that was burnt in October of last year another television set has been given to the detainees. In that instance the television was broken by the detainees.
It is not even correct that detainees are being deprived of books, magazines or newspapers. I assure the Hon Member as well as the public, that this is not the case and that illegal immigrants have at their own disposal both books and magazines. Apart from that, they have been given a number of indoor games such as cards, chess, ludo, draughts and other games to pass the time.
As for the reference to the showers and toilets at the Ta’ Kandja centre, I would like to clarify that this detention centre comprises two large halls and in every hall there are 29 illegal immigrants. Every hall is equipped with four toilets, four wash-hand basins and four showers. This is an average of seven toilets, showers and basins for every seven detainees. It is true that during Dr Gulia’s visit two of the showers were not working. The damage to the two showers developed the same day of Dr Gulia’s visit, and for that reason they were still in a state of disrepair.
However, as one can appreciate, where there are many people, these problems are never lacking, but are mundane affairs. One can say that repairs of this kind are regular. Sometimes new damage occurs after fresh repairs. Despite all that has been said and done, the faults Dr Gulia referred to were repaired immediately after his visit. It does not appear that this was a case of public interest, nor was it a case where detainees were being kept in bad conditions, as the readers of this newspaper might have perceived.
It was also said during the press conference that detainees were not given phonecards. This is not exact. Detainees have been given phonecards since their arrival in our country not only to be able to receive telephone calls, but also to phone whoever they wish. We are sorry that an oversight resulted in a delay in giving a small number of detainees their phonecards. However, they still had a telephone service from where to receive calls.
It was said that detainees had blankets that were not being washed. Not only are detainees given blankets and clothes by the Police according to need, but they are also provided with facilities to wash their own clothes. It is their choice if they do not wash their own clothes and must not appear to be a lack of responsibility from the Police who take care of them.
As for the lack of privacy in the detention centres’ showers and toilets it was only in Ta’ Kandja centre that this was apparent, since the plastic separators between the showers were recently broken. We assure Dr Gulia, as well as the readers of your newspaper, that these have been mended.

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