Arriving in Malta by sea

What happens if I arrive in Malta without a visa?

If you arrive in Malta by sea without a visa or other legal permission, the Maltese authorities will transfer you to one of the Initial Reception Centres, and you will be subject to detention on public health grounds (see below).

If you are afraid and unwilling to return to your home country or the country where you lived previously because of violence, persecution, or war, or you are in danger of suffering serious harm in that country, you can apply for asylum in Malta.

➡️ See “How to apply for asylum in Malta” for more information.

Detention on public health grounds

Every person who arrives irregularly by boat in Malta is detained on public health grounds until it is confirmed that they do not have an infectious disease.

During detention on public health grounds, you have the right to ask to see a doctor. Ask to speak with the medical staff of the facility immediately:

  • If you have a medical or psychological condition or if you are currently experiencing discomfort of physical or psychological nature
  • If you need medication
  • If you survived sexual violence within the last 72 hours
  • If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing
  • If you are a child (under 18), alone without your parents. For more information, see Are you under 18?
  • If you are pregnant

During the detention on public health grounds:

  • You will be accommodated in one of the Initial Reception Centres managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Detention Services Agency;
  • You will be required to undergo medical screening, including chest X-ray, for public health reasons. This will be free of charge.
  • You will be given the mandatory vaccinations as may be prescribed by the authorities.

After you are medically cleared, depending on your country of origin and personal circumstances, you will be transferred either to an immigration detention centre or to an open accommodation centre.

What should I do if I am detained in Malta?

Maltese law allows the authorities to detain asylum seekers in specific circumstances, including for reasons of verifying your identity or nationality, if there is a risk that you will abscond (irregularly leave Malta without informing the authorities) or if you are about to be returned to your country of origin.

In case you are detained upon arrival, you have the right to:

  • Be issued a Detention Order in writing in a language which you are reasonably expected to understand
  • Be informed of procedures to challenge detention
  • Get free legal assistance and representation
  • Apply for asylum

You also have the right to:

  • Be informed about your rights and obligations and the timeframes of the procedures in a language that you understand or are reasonably expected to understand
  • Request to meet with UNHCR
  • Emergency health care and essential treatment of physical and mental health conditions
  • Medical and other assistance, including mental health care, in case you have special reception needs

Upon being transferred to an open accommodation facility

Open centres are designated accommodation facilities administered and managed by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS), which is the government agency mandated to implement national legislation and policy concerning the welfare of asylum seekers and persons granted international protection. Besides accommodation, AWAS offers social work support and psychological support services, and the Vulnerability Assessment Team is responsible for assessing age and vulnerabilities. Moreover, the Migrant Advice Unit (MAU) within AWAS provides information to the residents regarding housing in the community, educational opportunities and employment. Lastly, nurses and doctors are available within the reception centres managed by AWAS.

Following your transfer to an open accommodation facility, where you have freedom of movement to come and go, you are expected to sign a standard Service Agreement delineating open centres’ rules and obligations.

During your stay in the open centre, you have the right to material reception conditions, including:

  • Accommodation in the centre (usually up to 6 months for single men, and up to one year for women and families)
  • Food and clothing: meals are provided in AWAS-run open centres and clothing items are distributed according to needs and availability
  • Daily expenses allowance (per diem): For you to be eligible for the daily allowance (amounting to approximately €130 monthly), you must report and sign 3 times/week in the centre

Withdrawal of reception conditions

In case you abandon the place of residence, do not comply with reporting duties or with requests to provide information or to appear for personal interviews concerning the asylum procedure during a reasonable period laid down in national law, the reception conditions may be withdrawn.


➡️ Please check the “Rights and Obligations” related to your accommodation in an open centre.

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