NGO Statement on the European Meeting of 23 September

On the occasion of the meeting of the 23 September between representatives of Malta, Italy, Germany, France, Finland and the European Commission the undersigned organisations 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.

A 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.

We 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 vulnerable persons.

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.

In 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 Mediterranean that:

  1. 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;
  2. Terminates at once the approach whereby rescued persons are only allowed to be disembarked once their relocation is secured;
  3. 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;
  4. Guarantees that, following disembarkation, all persons are treated humanely and with respect for their dignity and fundamental human rights;
  5. 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.

Statement by:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association
  3. Blue Door English
  4. Integra Foundation
  5. Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
  6. Malta Emigrants’ Commission
  7. Migrant Women Association (Malta)
  8. Moviment Graffitti
  9. Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education
  10. SOS Malta
  11. Syrian Solidarity in Malta

Forced to flee his country or risk facing death for being gay

Bachir, Sudan*

Facts

Bachir, a sudanese gay young man, found himself forced to flee his country because of persecution due to his sexual orientation. After being surprised with his gay partner, their relation was made public and the couple had to face an armed mob chasing them. His partner died from being beaten up by the mob. The armed group of people also burned Bachir’s car, resulting in all his documents, including his university and high school degrees to be destroyed.

Being part of the LGBTI group in Sudan means being attacked on all sides. Legally, same-sex sexual activity and relations are criminalized, and if found guilty, punished with a long prison sentence. In some cases, the prison sentence might go up to life imprisonment or the death penalty. Furthermore, risks of societal stigmatization, violence and private justice targeting LGBTI people is tolerated – if not fueled – by the government and police forces. Fear of reprisals and harassment causes under-reporting of crimes committed towards LGBTI and due to this environment, access to healthcare for is also compromised.

After the incident, Bachir was rejected by his family and his last solution was to flee Sudan. He was facing a real risk of being killed by a mob meting out private justice, or facing a criminal trial, imprisonment and a possible death sentence. He did not have any form of support.

He fled Sudan through Libya, crossed the desert, boarded a small dinghy together with another 30 migrants and left the Libyan shores towards Europe. Quickly after departure, the boat ran out of fuel and was left drifting in the sea. After a number of hours with no fuel, water or food, the dinghy was finally rescued by an AFM rescue ship and was taken to Malta.

At arrival in Malta, Bachir was devastated as he had lost his partner, his family’s and friends’ support and his higher-education degrees. He had to leave everything behind: his home, his country, everything.

On arrival, Bachir applied for international protection in Malta. His application was rejected on the basis that the Refugee Commissioner was not convinced that he was gay.

Our Role

  • Our lawyers assisted Bachir with filing his appeal application in front of the Refugee Appeals Board.
  • The appeal’s procedure lasted approximately one year, in which our lawyers filed submissions and counter-submissions in response to the Refugee Commissioner’s responses.
  • In addition, our lawyers communicated with the UNCHR in relation to specific issues related to Bachir’s case.
  • Our lawyers attended the oral hearing with Bachir and defended his case in front of the Refugee Appeals Board.
  • In addition to assistance with the appeal’s procedure, we assisted him with other matters, such as access to education and social assistance.

Results

  • The Refugee Appeal’s Board overturned the Refugee Commissioner’s decision and granted Bachir refugee status.
  • Bachir has started out a new life in Malta and is studying at a higher-education institution and is motivated to find regular and stable employment.
  • Nonetheless, although feeling safe in Malta, he faces racial discrimination and still hides his homosexuality, fearing for more discrimination and harassment.

* Name and country been changed to protect his identity.


Walk for those who don’t dare walk themselves

Civil Society Statement regarding the ongoing detention of asylum seekers at Safi Barracks and the Initial Reception Centre


We are deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of hundreds of asylum-seekers – men, women and children – on medical grounds at the Initial Reception Centre and Safi Barracks. We believe that, in many cases, the detention is completely unlawful.

National law allows the health authorities to restrict an individual’s movement for medical screening for a period not exceeding four weeks, which may be exceptionally extended up to ten weeks for the purpose of finalising any tests that may be necessary. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that in order to be considered lawful, detention must always be justified on an individual basis, implemented in good faith, and used only for as long as strictly necessary.

At this point, there are asylum seekers who have been deprived of their liberty on the pretext of health checks – consisting essentially of a single test to screen for active TB – for periods ranging from a few days to 13 weeks from disembarkation. Several hundred of these, some of them children, have been detained for 8 weeks or more, which is way more than the time needed to conduct this test even for such a large number of people.
Possibly worse is the fact that no one has told them for how long they will be detained and that there are no accessible effective remedies to challenge their detention.

That they are being held in crowded, insanitary conditions, with almost no opportunity for recreation or constructive activity, hardly any contact with the outside world, limited access to open air, and a severe shortage of basic material necessities, makes their detention even harder to bear. In these conditions it is not surprising that tension is building in the centres, as people are worn down by the uncertainty and the strain
of their prolonged and arbitrary detention.

It would appear that in practice the main reason for their ongoing detention is the lack of space in the open centres. While we fully appreciate the strain that the large number of arrivals has placed on Malta’s reception system, resource constraints, no matter how severe, can and should never be used to justify deprivation of liberty.

In view of this we are calling on the government to ensure that all of the people currently being held on medical grounds are immediately released, unless their detention is clearly and objectively justified on health grounds in the individual case.

We are also calling on the government to allocate the resources necessary to strengthen our reception system and create sufficient reception spaces for asylum seekers to be hosted in accordance with Malta’s legal obligations. It is clear to us that the only way to do this is by creating new spaces, whether in existing facilities that are currently not in use, such as Hangar Open Centre, or in other facilities that may be available. There is absolutely no way that enough spaces can be created simply by pushing residents out of the open centres currently in use. More, in the current scenario, where access to decent and affordable housing is almost impossible, this measure is likely to create more problems than it solves.

In recent months Malta has shown leadership on migration issues, providing safe haven to migrants rescued from vessels in distress and brokering agreements between EU member states to share responsibility for disembarkations. The staff of state frontline migration and reception agencies have gone way beyond the call of duty, in spite of the limited resources at their disposal, to provide services and support to new arrivals.

While we appreciate all of this, as do the people whose lives were saved through Malta’s efforts, it is essential that concrete action is taken to strengthen our reception system in order to ensure that asylum seekers rescued are received with dignity and their rights are respected. On our part we affirm once more our willingness to support any and all initiatives aimed at improving reception conditions for asylum seekers in Malta.

September 6, 2019


This statement is endorsed by:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association Malta
  3. Agara Foundation
  4. Catholic Voices
  5. Christian Life Communities (CLC)
  6. Cross Culture International Foundation (CCIF)
  7. Dar tal-Providenza
  8. Department of Gender Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  9. Drachma LGBTI
  10. Drachma Parents’ Group
  11. Fondazzjoni Sebh
  12. Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants
  13. Fundazzjoni Paci u Gid
  14. Integra Foundation
  15. Isles of the Left
  16. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta
  17. Jesuits in Malta
  18. Kopin
  19. Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci
  20. Malta Emigrants Commission
  21. Moviment Graffiti
  22. Office of the Dean, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  23. Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malta
  24. Paolo Freire Institute
  25. Richmond Foundation
  26. Salesians of Don Bosco
  27. Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija
  28. Solidarity with Migrants Group
  29. SOS Malta
  30. Spark 15
  31. St Jeanne Antide Foundation
  32. The Critical Institute
  33. Women’s Rights Foundation
  34. Youth Alive Foundation

NGOs commend Maltese Government and call on European Member States to do more

Joint NGO Press Release

The undersigned NGOs commend the decision taken by the Government of Malta to receive the 356 migrants and refugees saved at sea by the Ocean Viking.

For two long weeks, the rescued men, women and children were abandoned on a rescue vessel, forced to endure the scorching heat, uncertainty and ongoing precarity.

Once again, the European Member States have dragged their feet and unnecessarily prolonged human suffering. The principles of solidarity, considered to be a cornerstone of the Union, must take front and centre – first and foremost with those risking their lives to access protection, and also with the external border Member States who cannot be expected to continue carrying the consequences of political inadequacy and deadlock at the European level.

We remind the Member States of their legal, political and moral responsibilities and call on them to do much better.

24 August 2019


Statement issued by:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association
  3. Catholic Voices Malta
  4. Department of Gender Studies, University of Malta
  5. Department of Youth & Community Studies, University of Malta
  6. Drachma LGBTI
  7. Drachma Parents Group
  8. Integra Foundation
  9. Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
  10. Kopin
  11. Malta Emigrants Commission
  12. Moviment Graffitti
  13. Office of the Dean Faculty of Education, University of Malta
  14. Office of the Dean, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  15. Richmond Foundation
  16. SOS Malta
  17. Spark 15
  18. St. Jeanne Antide Foundation (SJAF)
  19. The Critical Institute
  20. Women’s Rights Foundation


Europe must take collective responsibility for rescued migrants

Joint NGO Press Release

As Malta swelters in the summer heat, over 350 men, women and children are out at sea, stranded aboard rescue vessels waiting to be allowed to land. Despite repeated requests to Italy and Malta for a safe port, to date neither Member State has allowed disembarkation and none of the Member States of the EU have stepped in to offer refuge to those on board. As days turn into weeks and EU Member States continue to drag their feet, conditions on board the two ships worsen and people’s life and safety are compromised.

In the face of this callous disregard for human life, we, the undersigned NGOs, urge Malta to once more lead by example and allow the people stranded on board the rescue vessels to disembark in Malta, whether or not it is legally responsible for their disembarkation in terms of international law.

It is quite simply unacceptable to argue that the rescued migrants should be returned to Libya, where they risk imprisonment in inhuman conditions, torture, rape, and slavery. Libya cannot be considered a safe port by any definition, so it is imperative that another solution is found for the rescued migrants.

It is equally objectionable to imply that any State is somehow justified in refusing to allow the disembarkation of people rescued by NGOs. International maritime law is clear: the priority is to save lives and to ensure disembarkation in a place of safety, regardless of who conducted the rescue. Saving lives is therefore a legal obligation, and under no circumstances can it be considered wrong or – at worst – a crime.

The Member States of the European Union, a Union supposedly founded on solidarity and respect for human dignity, have a legal obligation to offer refuge to people fleeing persecution. That Europe repeatedly closes its doors to people fleeing harm is beyond reprehensible – it is a betrayal of the principles which are supposed to define us and of the rules that are there to protect us all.

Furthermore, it is amply clear that the Member States at the external borders of Europe, like Malta, Italy and Greece, cannot and should not be left to deal with this European challenge alone.

It is for this reason that we are calling on the European Union institutions and Member States to take collective responsibility for the tragedy unfolding on Europe’s doorstep and to take concrete steps to ensure that, wherever they are disembarked, people are received in conditions of dignity.


  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association Malta
  3. Allied Rainbow Communities
  4. Anti-Poverty Forum Malta
  5. Caritas Malta
  6. The Critical Institute
  7. Drachma LGBTI
  8. Drachma Parents GroupIntegra Foundation
  9. Isles of the Left
  10. Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
  11. Kopin
  12. LGBTI+ Gozo
  13. Malta Emigrants’ Commission
  14. Maltese Association of Psychiatry
  15. Men Against Violence
  16. MGRM-Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement
  17. Migrant Women Association Malta
  18. Moviment Graffitti
  19. OASI Foundation
  20. Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education University of Malta
  21. People for Change Foundation
  22. Richmond Foundation
  23. SOS Malta
  24. SPARK15
  25. Young Christian Workers