‘Open centre conditions place refugees at greater risk when there is an outbreak’ – NGO
open centre conditions place refugees at greater risk when there is an outbreak ngo - ‘Open centre conditions place refugees at greater risk when there is an outbreak’ - NGO

The Coronavirus does not discriminate between people, and the response to this virus must be grounded in solidarity, inclusion and equity, Integra Director Maria Pisani told The Malta Independent. “We cannot discriminate between who receives care and support.”

“There needs to be clarity with regards to who is eligible for support. Refugees and migrants lack the security and safety nets that many of us take for granted. The message is very clear. Our response to this crisis, and ultimately, our recovery, will only be as strong as our weakest link. So this is not just a human rights issue, or about doing the decent thing, it’s also a public health issue. Everyone in the country, regardless of their legal status, must be assured of social and economic security, and migrants and asylum seekers deserve that security too,” explained Pisani.


In the past days, some residents at the Hal Far Open centre have tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday for example, a 33 year-old Nigerian man who was confined at the centre due to an unrelated work injury, tested positive. Six other migrants who sleep in the same quarters as the man are quarantined. At least one other case has been reported.

Public Health Superintendent Professor Charmaine Gauci explained that a risk assessment of the open centre is taking place, including on the people that these patients may have come in contact with.

“Let’s be frank. The conditions in the open centres, including sanitation and hygiene, are not conducive to social distancing or isolation. They place refugees at far greater risk of exposure to the virus once there is an outbreak” explained Pisani.

She said that she does not know where these men will quarantine, and highlighted that there are a number of hotels with empty rooms, and these would be good for those individuals living in centres to quarantine safely there. “The authorities ask us to practice social distancing, but individuals living in detention centres and open centres cannot practice social distancing. They cannot be ignored,” she said.

Before COVID-19, migrants were already in a vulnerable situation, due to poverty, insecurity and social exclusion. “Migrants and people living in such conditions demonstrate resilience and strength to continue on, despite their vulnerability. But, we also know that people living in poverty and precarious conditions are exposed to situations which put them at a higher risk of contracting the virus.”

Pisani pointed out that such migrants who face racism and discrimination are our cleaners, garbage collectors and carers and that they all needed to be treated, like everyone else, as equals. She highlighted that due to the virus, people are losing their jobs, and this is the same for migrants, and that there must be health, social and economic security across the board for everyone living in Malta.

“During these difficult times, our response must be grounded in solidarity, inclusion, equity and trust. Access to information, healthcare, decent living conditions and food to eat is critical in maintaining public trust, compliance with the guidance issued by our public health authorities, and ultimately our recovery. We cannot and will not have public health if we do not assure refugee and migrant health” said Pisani.

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