A year that changed everything: our Annual Report for 2020

We have just published the Annual Report covering our activities for 2020! Below, we’re sharing our Director’s introductory comments to the Report, where he touches on how 2020 truly was a year that changed everything for us.

You are invited to download and read the Report here (.pdf). Do not hesitate to get in touch with us should you have any queries or comments on our activities.

It is probably a tired cliché to say that 2020 was challenging! I can say with certainty that, as we’re writing this report (September 2021), we are all still tired and struggling to recover from the strains 2020 put on us all. 

In her contribution, Carla (Assistant Director) talks about our immediate and longer-term responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of how it affected our beneficiaries, our operations and – overall – the organisation’s profile. Essentially, we quickly adapted our activities to a new environment that not only required us to work remotely but that also presented our beneficiaries with extremely serious problems relating the most basic of needs: documents, housing, nutrition. They were very trying times for the entire team, including for Erna, our newly-arrived intern who spent most of her internship doing her fantastic job alone from her apartment! Read her interview in the report. 

We also saw Malta’s approach to migrants and asylum-seekers taking yet another step in the wrong direction. Capitalising on the distractions and public health measures brought about as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Maltese authorities illegally returned to Libya a group of asylum-seekers, amongst them a number of corpses.

The infamous ‘Easter pushback’ saw Malta resorting to devious arrangements with private shipowners in order for them to carry out the State’s dirty work. Similarly, the illegal and inhumane detention of over 400 men, women and children on ships usually used for touring Malta shocked us all. Not only were the people strategically held just outside Malta’s territorial waters, and out of reach of any telephone or internet network, but they were subsequently illegally detained in Safi and Lyster Barracks for several months.

In summer, the Refugees Act was amended, transforming the Office of the Refugee Commissioner into the International Protection Agency. Other changes further entrenched Malta’s accelerated procedure, whereby arbitrary and politically-motivated nationality-based distinctions often lead to asylum-seekers being unable to fully present their applications. In the relevant sections below, we provide more detailed information on the problems in last year’s increased use of detention and this accelerated procedure, highlighting our Team’s activities and initiatives.

Responding to the degeneration of Malta’s rule of law has been one of our strategic priorities for a number of years. Throughout 2020 we continued our advocacy activities, mainly by engaging with the international and European entities monitoring Malta’s situation. We provided detailed input on the so-called reforms and reiterated our key observations.

In hindsight, it must be said that our experiences during the various lock-down phases taught us several important lessons. The speed of our responsiveness was key in securing our Team members’ safety and also of diverting our energies and resources to where our beneficiaries needed them most. We learnt that far too much time and money used to be spent commuting to and participating in meetings, locally and overseas. Yet we were also reminded that strong teams are built around common energies and goals that require constant stimulation and engagement.

Essentially, the Covid-19 pandemic drove home the message that Malta’s marginalised and vulnerable communities – not being limited to migrants – remain largely reliant on the services and support of non-governmental organisations. The generosity shown in response to our calls for support, and for similar calls for several other organisations, was a heart-warming public response to situations that should not be seen in twenty-first century Malta.

As 2021 draws to a close, so does our Strategic Plan 2020-2021. The lessons learnt throughout 2020 will certainly feature in our discussions on the 2022-2023 Plan, not only in terms of the human rights challenges and opportunities that the country will be facing but as to how our operations, finances and energies can be tweaked to improve our overall impact and efficiency.