“COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought.”Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
It is appalling to hear Government talk of non-Maltese nationals without acknowledging their humanity and – in many cases – their vulnerability. Recent statements by the Economy Minister are, at best, extremely naive and, at worst, reveal a sheer lack of compassion and humanity. Thousands of non-Maltese men, women and children cannot be abandoned to a situation of absolute precarity. Their health and livelihood must be safeguarded in order to respect their dignity and also to prevent any threats to public health. When the nation is facing such challenging times, words of support and encouragement are far more productive than careless talk of unemployment and deportations. Under all circumstances our humanity and decency must prevail.
Over the past weeks it has become clear that the Coronavirus epidemic is going to have a severe economic impact resulting in large numbers of non-Maltese nationals losing their jobs almost overnight. If unmitigated, this large-scale and sudden unemployment will trigger a worrying chain of events that has the potential of ruining the lives of thousands of people. With migrants’ residence in Malta dependent on them holding a work permit, the immediate consequence of their job loss would be the withdrawal of their right to remain in Malta.
Migrants who until a few days ago were working, paying taxes and social security contributions, renting homes, attending classes and making Malta home will suddenly become “prohibited persons” under Malta’s immigration laws. As bluntly highlighted by the Economy Minister, this will mean one thing: returns to home countries and, possibly, detention and deportation.
This is our Director’s opinion piece for Times of Malta, published on 13 February 2020.
Despite the radical developments in Malta over the past months, it cannot be said that normality has been restored. After weeks of taking to the streets, we at Aditus Foundation welcomed Joseph Muscat’s resignation and Prime Minister Robert Abela’s statements on governance reform.
Yet, it would be foolish to believe or act as if Malta’s institutional shortcomings have miraculously disappeared.
Our democracy is still extremely vulnerable and we are concerned that the gravest threats come from within.
Notwithstanding their shameful activities, Muscat and Konrad Mizzi
remain members of Parliament. There, they are able to exercise authority
and influence laws that govern every aspect of all our lives and that
of our nation.
This is clearly unacceptable and no argument on their political right to those two seats will make us think otherwise.
We’ve just written to the Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement on the occasion of Malta’s accession to the 1954 Statelessness Convention. This is fantastic news, as Malta was one of the few EU Member States to not have signed any of the statelessness conventions.
For many years, together with our partners at the European Network on Statelessness, we’ve advocated for Malta to step up its efforts on statelessness and tackle the human rights challenges faced by stateless people in Malta, including arbitrary detention, lack of documentation, eternal legal limbo, difficulties marrying and even simple tasks as opening a bank account.
All these issues, as well as related recommendations, are very well-presented in the Statelessness Index, a useful comparative tool on how European countries are protecting stateless persons.
Our next steps are to work closely with the Ministry to ensure that the legal and administrative framework set up to implement the Convention is of the highest possible standards!
After years of treating asylum and migration in crisis mode, we believe the proposed Pact on Asylum and Migration is an opportunity for the EU and its Member States to change direction. It is an opportunity to develop a rational and rights-based asylum and migration policy. Recent cooperation among Member States signals the possibility of a fresh start, which should build on the lessons of the recently attempted and largely failed reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). However, there is a risk that the Pact may include or prepare the groundwork for damaging legislative proposals, in particular what has been termed the “border instrument”.
No more old wine in new bottles
Some Member States continue to promote the idea of a mandatory border procedure in non-papers and other informal contributions. Extrapolating from these documents and debates, the potential border instrument would combine the worst and most controversial elements of the 2016 CEAS reform package, pulling together parts of the Asylum Procedures Regulation, Dublin IV and recast Return Directive. The procedure would be applied to all persons who arrive in the EU to seek protection and would lead to a massive expansion of detention centres at the borders.
We are extremely excited to launch a new initiative that will see us supporting refugee-led organisations. Together with partners in Malta, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Italy we will be looking at the challenges faced by refugee-led groups in becoming active advocates for refugee rights. On the basis of our research and consultations we will then design a training kit intended to strengthen their capacity to advocate at the national and EU levels.
Refugee-led community organisations (RCOs) play a crucial role within society and ample research has highlighted this. RCOs provide a bridge support to newly-arrived refugees. They facilitate swifter integration by offering basic information on procedures and daily life, provide language and cultural orientation training, support refugees wishing to contribute to lost societies and, generally, assist in the normalisation process of making a host community become home.