Refugee-led Community Organisations in Malta: Advocating about issues directly impacting refugees. In a way that really reflects refugees.

Carla Camilleri, Assistant Director

Arrival in Malta

Malta starting receiving significant numbers of refugees in the mid-90’s. However, it was not until 2001 and 2002 that large numbers started arriving by boat from North Africa, Libya in particular. Most of those arriving in Malta through this route were from Sub-Saharan Africa, however in recent years Syrians and Libyans make up the largest groups in terms of arrivals.

Between 2002 and 2013 Malta received an average of 1700 boat arrivals per year. From 2014, there was a marked decrease in the number of boat arrivals through the central Mediterranean route, which was offset by an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving by plane. From June 2018, arrivals of asylum-seekers rescued at sea resumed with 7132 persons rescued between 2018 and 2020.

Refugees and their organisations

The the exact number of refugee-led community organisations (RCOs) present in Malta is unknown. However, there exist a number of diaspora organisations reflecting the variety of nationalities residing in Malta that have formally registered as non-governmental organisations, whilst others have a looser organisational structure.

There are currently around 10 refugee-led or migrant-led organisations that focus on refugee issues. Some are diaspora organisations that are representatives of the peoples that come from countries from which refugees originate (e.g. Syrian Solidarity in Malta, Sudanese Community Malta, Eritrean Migrant Community Association and others), whilst others have a more sectoral approach (e.g. Migrant Women Association Malta, Spark15). Furthermore, there are diaspora organisations, such as the African RCOs, that have created platforms that consist of members from different groups.

NGOs working with refugees recently established the Malta Refugee Council, as an informal network to coordinate our advocacy work for the betterment of refugees’ lives in Malta.

Their voice

It is interesting to note that the emergence of RCOs is a relatively new phenomenon in Malta, and we could say that we are seeing ‘first generation’ type RCOs with varying levels of expertise and organisation.

There have been a variety of triggers for the formation of RCOs. The triggers depended on the different situation of the members of those communities. The Eritrean community was set-up once resettlement from Malta was completed and in order to focus on integration, whilst the Ivorian community was set up to address the issues of detention that they faced in the early 2000s.

The main aim is to gather … in one place, have fun, activities, campaigns learn from each other, support each other, and share our struggles

Representative of Syrian Solidarity in Malta.

The struggles that they speak of include legal, structural and policy issues that exist in Malta and that have been largely created without the participation of the individuals that are directly effected by them:

  • The reception and asylum systems which are under severe strain and which lead to delays in accessing the asylum procedure and a degeneration in reception conditions generally.
  • The policy of mandatory detention which has been re-introduced, after its removal in 2015.
  • Restrictive laws and the lack of a comprehensive policy framework that regulate permanent settlement, family reunification, citizenship, access to benefits and local integration.
  • Accessing the labour market and/or securing stable employment, remains difficult and the social support provided extremely limited.
  • The public discourse surrounding migration which is a negative one that dehumanises asylum-seekers and refugees and treats them as social burdens.
  • The spreading of verbal violence and racial abuse by groups and individuals on social media, particularly on Facebook.
  • An increasingly hostile environment which came to a head in 2019, when Lassana Cisse was shot dead and another two-men injured in a racially motivated attack by two off-duty army officers.

Engaging in a political environment

Although the presence of refugees in Malta spans almost three decades, the presence of RCOs and their active engagement in political discourse remains limited. Throughout the years there has been little contact with government stakeholders to discuss issues that are relevant to their communities which range from social welfare to health, from detention to access to justice, and from integration to citizenship. Although there has been some collaboration on the local level, engagement at policy and legislative level has been severely lacking and this is a missed opportunity as RCOs are key in…

…advocating about issues that are directly impacting refugees. In a way that really reflect refugees.

Representative of the Eritrean Migrant Community Association.

Non-refugee-led organisations have been on the forefront of advocating for refugee rights in the past years, however there is a need to break the dichotomy that they are consulted as the “experts” and RCOs are sought out solely for their “experience”. This is not always easy to achieve as RCOs face a number of challenges which non-refugee-led organisation do not and this in turn effects the efficiency and effectiveness of their organisations.

Primarily, most of the people working with RCOs do so on a voluntary basis, whilst juggling full-time employment or education and family life. This was found to affect many aspects of keeping an NGO running: registering, reporting, funding and working on projects. Consequently, the majority of RCOs in Malta were unable to apply for public or project finding due to a lack of capacity to fulfil the obligations required by funding programmes.

Furthermore, the lack of office space or the funding to rent office space is a major challenge. The lack of space from which to operate effects the efficiency of the organisation but also has an impact on the lack of privacy and confidentiality that is needed at times.

Importantly, many refugees see Malta as a ‘stop’ before moving to mainland Europe and therefore there is a high turnover of volunteers and a lack of commitment to long-term visions and projects. It was also difficult to find skilled persons to volunteer. Many also did not have hope and motivation that the work done by RCOs would lead to a change in integration strategies, policies and legislation.

However, in spite of the lack of time and money, many RCOs have had a tangible impact on the lives of their members, if not so much on policy and legislation. This was through financial assistance to the members of the community, assistance to homeless refugees, counselling sessions, training of members and language lessons.

Untapped resource

We have spoken a long time ago with the Home Affairs and Security. We exchanged letters regarding our situation… 2 years after we were able to meet them.

Representative of the Sudanese Community Malta.

As mentioned above, there has been limited engagement by the major players within Government with RCOs. Many RCOs feel that although as they try to engage with Government their response was limited.

RCOs present an untapped resource that can not only offer services to members of the community but can offer valid contributions to legislative consultations and can raise protection concerns and gaps that their communities are facing.

Government should be more open to having discussions with RCOs on issues of concern, policies and legislative changes. This would need to be done by having an open and transparent process when legislative or policy changes are being discussed. Furthermore, there needs to be an open dialogue between Government and RCOs on key issues such as detention, rescue at sea and the asylum process.

In conjunction with improved collaboration, there needs to be an equitable method of supporting RCOs through financial assistance, the provision of office space and support in setting up and administering a voluntary organisation.

This article was written on the basis of the findings and interviews carried out within the framework of the project Training Kit for Empowering Refugee-Led Community Organisations supported by Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

This project is being implemented by the following organisations: aditus foundation, Cyprus Refugee Council, Dutch Refugee Council, European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Greek Forum of Refugees, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Mosaico – Azioni per i rifugiati. With Syrian Volunteers Netherlands as Associated Partners.

For further information visit the project webpage, where you will find the national reports on refugee-led organisations in all the participating countries (including the EU-level aspect) as well as other project publications.

Venice Commission: lack of public consultation akin to denying citizens their democratic entitlement.

Part I – Reform Process

In this two part series, we will be looking at Venice Commission Opinion CDL-AD(2020)019 adopted in October 2020 on the acts and bills that sought to implement the proposals for legislative changes which were the subject of Opinion CDL-AD(2020)006 adopted in June 2020.

In Part I, we examine the Venice Commission’s reaction to the procedure used by the Government in adopting the first 6 Acts which are subject of the Opinion. In the Part II, a look will be had at the substantive comments on the 6 adopted acts and finally, Part III will review the remaining 4 pending bills.

Backdrop: Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination

On the 8th October 2020 the Venice Commission adopted an Opinion on the ten acts and bills implementing the legislative proposals put forward by the Maltese government. This is the 4th Opinion adopted by the Commission on Malta since 2018. The process relating to the Malta’s constitutional amendments, separation of powers and independence of the judiciary kicked off in October 2018 by a request of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to the Venice Commission.

The request to the Venice Commission from the PACE originated in a proposal by the Rapporteur of the report on “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”. The Venice Commission had noted then that the request for should be understood against this backdrop, although its remit is exclusively limited to the examination of Malta’s constitutional amendments.

Reaction: A hidden & rushed parliamentary process

Interestingly, it can be noted that the Government transmitted the 10 bills to the Venice Commission as restricted documents which could not be circulated to the public without prior authorisation. The Minister requested an opinion by way of urgency, to which the Venice Commission replied by stating that it would not prepare an opinion by way of urgency but that it would be finalised at the beginning of October 2020.

The Venice Commission also recalled that it had insisted that the Maltese authorities should have a meaningful exchange with all stakeholders on the basis of texts that should be public. It strongly called:

… for wide consultations and a structured dialogue with civil society, parliamentary parties, academia, the media and other institutions, in order to open a free and unhampered debate of the current and future reforms, including for constitutional revision, to make them holistic. The process of the reforms should be transparent and open to public scrutiny not least through the media.” – paragraph 99 Opinion CDL-AD(2020)006.

The lack of publicity of the texts up until the last minute meant that bills, that will have profound and long-term impact on Maltese society, were not scruntised by civil society, parliamentary parties, academia, the media and other institutions. This was done against the repeated recommendations of the Venice Commission that called for wide consultations with society as a whole.

Cutting short any meaningful dialogue

In spite of this, on the 29th July 2020, the Maltese Parliament went ahead and approved 6 out of the 10 Bills it had previously presented to the Venice Commission. In reaction to this, the Opinion noted with regret that the Bills were adopted before the Opinion could be finalised and without any structured dialogue with all stakeholders as recommended.

The Venice Commission stressed that it was “critical of the procedure followed by the Maltese Government, which it regrets” and that the rushed and opaque procedures essentially cut short any meaning dialogue with Maltese society. It noted that the 6 wide-ranging bills were rushed through Parliament in just 29 days between the first reading and adoption. Furthermore, it noted that 4 bills were made public after 16 days from their presentation at first reading in Parliament.

Unanimity in the Maltese Parliament is an ambivalent matter

In scathing words, the Venice Commission noted that confining discourse to the political parties in parliament, without meaningful public consultation, was akin to denying citizens their democratic entitlement to have a say in the shaping of the constitutional order of Malta. The text of the Opinion goes so far as to say that although unanimity may be seen as a sign of broad consensus, it could also be interpreted as:

proving the closedness of the political system and the fact that common vested interests bind the majority and the opposition together.” paragraph 16 – Opinion CDL-AD(2020)019

Finally, the Venice Commission repeatedly states that the procedures adopted by the Maltese authorities in carrying out these reforms go against the literal and overall thrust of their previous opinions.

In Part II of this series, which will be published next week, will look at the substantive comments to 6 acts adopted by Parliament relating to:

  • Reforms relating to the judicial review of decisions not to prosecute;
  • Amendments to laws regulating the Office of the Ombudsman;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the judiciary;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the President;
  • Constitutional and other amendments relating to the removal from office of the judiciary; and
  • Reforms relating to the appointments to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

In May 2020, aditus had the opportunity to discuss its views on the proposed changes, together with other local civil society actors, with the rapporteurs of the Venice Commission. This was followed by a publication of its feedback on Malta’s proposed legislative changes. We had already then noted our frustration at the lack of broad civil society involvement in the formulating any of the intended changes put forward by the Government.

Submission to the Human Rights Committee for Malta’s 3rd periodic review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

aditus has submitted its report to the Human Rights Committee for Malta’s 3rd periodic review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which will be held on the in the period between the 12th October to the 6th November 2020. The Human Rights Committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties.

As a party to the Covenant, Malta is obliged to submit regular reports, usually every 4 years to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations in the form of concluding observations.

The Human Rights Committee considers that the cooperation of NGOs and civil society working on the promotion and protection of human rights is essential for the promotion and implementation of the Covenant. Therefore, we work on submitting our input in a comprehensive report that covers the main issues that concern the Covenant and its implementation in Malta over the past 4 years. aditus is not the only NGO that has submitted its input this year and the other reports can be accessed here.

Our report covers the following issues and concludes with recommendations:

  • National Human Rights Institution     
  • Participation Of Women In Political And Public Life 
  • Sexual & Reproductive Health 
  • Freedom Of Thought, Expression And Assembly 
  • Racial Discrimination & Institutional Racism
  • Detention
  • Access To Protection, Non-Refoulment 
  • Justice
  • Right To Marry           
  • Rule Of Law   

The document can be accessed here or downloaded:

For more information contact our assistant director Carla Camilleri: [email protected]

Legal Update on the Captain Morgan Incident

This week aditus foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and Integra foundation filed three complaints in three different fora with respect to the situation of around 167 migrants currently being held aboard the private vessels Europa II and the Atlantis, just outside Malta’s territorial waters. The Maltese government chartered a number of private pleasure craft vessels to accommodate migrants rescued in Malta’s SAR zone in the period between the 28th and 29th April 2020 and 6th May 2020. The migrants were transferred from private and AFM vessels involved in the rescue to the chartered vessels and have remained there since the beginning of May.

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aditus foundation publishes its feedback on Malta’s Proposed Legislative Changes further to the Venice Commission Report on Malta

aditus foundation has presented its feedback on Malta’s Proposed Legislative Changes to the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) further to its Report on Malta published in 2018. aditus also had the opportunity to discuss its views on the proposed changes, together with other local civil society actors, with the rapporteurs of the Venice Commission.

As we have repeatedly underlined in all our advocacy efforts over the past years and in our communications with the Venice Commission and the European Parliament’s ad-hoc Delegation to Malta, our concerns are centred on a rights-based understanding of good governance, requiring a healthy and functioning rule of law to ensure the respect, protection and fulfillment of the fundamental rights of all persons living in Malta.

In our document we highlighted the importance of rolling out the much-needed reform, whilst also highlighting that any changes need to be part of a broader reform which takes into account the context of Malta’s political, media and civil society landscape that has shaped the reality that we live in today.

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