“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.
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.
the occasion of the meeting of the 23 September between representatives of
Malta, Italy, Germany, France, Finland and the European Commission the
strongly urge the meeting participants to bring to an end a distribution of
responsibilities that results in human suffering, injustice and violations of
international and European law.
permanent system of disembarkation and relocation of asylum-seekers rescued in
the Mediterranean is absolutely necessary. The current ad hoc system whereby
relocation is negotiated on a ship-by-ship basis is neither humane nor sustainable. Furthermore, it is imperative
that rescued asylum-seekers are always treated in a manner that fully respects
their dignity and fundamental rights. Ultimately, the present scenario risks draining
cooperating Member States of their willingness to support Italy and Malta.
welcome the active involvement of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in
these relocation exercises, reiterating the need for such exercises to be
treated as European initiatives and not as bilateral political negotiations amongst
Member States outside the scope of legal and policy scrutiny. Relocating
asylum-seekers should be based on the principles enshrined in Europe’s asylum
norms, including: registration and protection as asylum-seekers, appropriate provision
of information, restoration of family ties, identification of and support to
We are particularly concerned at Malta’s treatment of rescued persons in the Initial Reception Centre and in Safi Detention Centre. We have already expressed our concerns regarding the lawfulness of the detention of those who have been detained on medical grounds for weeks on end. Beyond this, both centres are over-crowded and living conditions are abysmal.
Whilst we fully appreciate Malta’s challenges in receiving relatively large numbers of asylum-seekers in a short time, we cannot endorse an approach that leaves people locked up for weeks, without a valid reason at law, and treats them with such disregard for their humanity.
It is simply unacceptable that this approach is tolerated by a European Union built on values of solidarity, humanity and dignity.
view of the above, we strongly urge the Member State participants to seek to
establish a permanent relocation mechanism for asylum-seekers rescued in the
Provides effective solidarity with Italy and Malta by ensuring the swift transfer of asylum-seekers and by providing support – including financial – towards the urgent improvement of reception conditions;
Terminates at once the approach whereby rescued persons are only allowed to be disembarked once their relocation is secured;
Ensure that all persons are provided with information, in a manner they understand, about their futures from the moment of their arrival and throughout the relocation procedure;
Guarantees that, following disembarkation, all persons are treated humanely and with respect for their dignity and fundamental human rights;
Immediately strengthens the capacity of open reception centres, both in terms of physical space and in terms of the human resources necessary to provide all asylum-seekers with the support they need to rebuild their lives.
This year we’ll be marching with a message that shows solidarity with so many of our beneficiaries who would love to march…but simply do not dare to: LGBTIQ+ refugees.
Our work brings us in touch with several men and women who have fled their countries because of the persecution they fear due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We guide them through Malta’s asylum process, in particular by explaining the importance of explaining their LGBTIQ+ identities. Of course, this is extremely challenging. There are several personal, social and community obstacles along the path to revealing such personal stories to a Government Case Officer who might be mostly interested in knowing:
“What were you before you were gay?”
Case Officer, Office of the Refugee Commissioner.
It is even more challenging, at times, to reveal such identities to members of their own communities on whom they rely for almost everything.
For Malta Pride 2019 we want to remind Malta, and Malta’s LGBTIQ+ community, of the diversity within this very community. That LGBTIQ+ includes persons with disabilities, young and old, refugees, migrant…and so many more colours.
We want to reassure those LGBTIQ+ refugees who dare not march for fear of being identified, labelled, shamed, excluded or threatened, that we proudly march for them.