An urgent call to states, donors and other stakeholders to promote and protect the rights of stateless persons in their COVID-19 responses
We joined 83 other human rights NGOs to make this urgent appeal to States, donors and other stakeholders…
As governments across the world confront the COVID-19 pandemic, facing deeply challenging decisions on protecting public health while averting starvation and warding off economic disaster, it is increasingly evident that in times of crisis, states are largely embracing a “citizens first” approach.
Denied nationality and deprived basic rights and welfare, the stateless were already marginalised before the crisis. They now face even greater, life-threatening marginalisation, with potentially disastrous consequences.
We, the undersigned 84 civil society actors, work on the right to nationality, non-discrimination, and statelessness around the world. We have been tracking and responding to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and state responses to it, on those whose nationality and belonging is denied or under threat. We have observed that in democratic states, measures including border closures and movement restrictions, health assistance, emergency relief and economic stimulus packages, privilege citizens and their concerns. Migrants, refugees, populations at risk of statelessness and the stateless themselves are left behind.
Hey all! I hope everyone is safe and taking all the precautions needed.
This week I started writing this blog post on Easter Sunday. My family and I were gathered around the kitchen table with warm food that my sisters and I had prepared. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by my family. As I had this wonderful image in front of me, I could not stop but think about the people stranded at sea. My social media was bombarded with news on how a group of asylum-seekers where stranded at sea. These articles had a profound impact on me and that’s why I decided to write this blog post.
I thought, “at the moment there are groups of men, women and children who are aboard a rubber boat, which has been stranded for more than five days now. They are facing the risk of being left to drown during those days of religious celebration for Christians, since both Malta and Italy closed their ports, having declared that they are unsafe“.
We urgently call on the Prime Minister to ensure that all persons within Malta’s responsibility are rescued and that their safety is guaranteed. The nation cannot quietly celebrate Easter whilst men, women and children are drowning on our doorstep.
Saving lives and ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced.
We also reiterate our message of two days ago: Malta must revoke its decision to close its ports to persons rescued at sea, whoever they are.
We are extremely concerned at
the increased number of alerts we are receiving from persons who do not have
sufficient food for themselves and their families and who are about to be
evicted because they are unable to pay rent. Many were at risk of poverty
before the COVID-19 outbreak, but now the number of people requiring urgent and
immediate assistance is increasing exponentially.
As people lose their jobs or have their wages cut, their ability to meet the most basic needs and those of their family members is being jeopardised. For some, these risks will be mitigated by Government’s support packages or by relying on support provided by social services, the community, family, friends, NGOs or the Church. Yet there are thousands of people who will not be able to receive this life-saving aid. They might not be aware of it or they could not be eligible for it. More worrying, it is becoming increasingly clear that there simply is not enough available aid to support Malta’s most vulnerable persons. We also note last week’s statement by 20 Church entities, expressing similar concerns.
“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.