The release of 9 detained Malians is a human rights victory!

We welcome the announcement that the nine Malian men detained for three months will finally be released.

The Minister for Home Affairs and National Security confirmed that difficulties obtaining documentation from Mali was impeding the men’s deportation, possibly for an indefinite period. Human rights, EU and Maltese law only allow States to detain migrants prior to their removal when the removal is actually being pursued with due diligence. The nine men’s on-going detention was therefore not in compliance with applicable norms, and that is we demanded their immediate release.

We look forward to further engagement with the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to explore ways of ensuring a national migration framework that truly upholds human rights principles.

The undersigned NGOs would like to express their sincere thanks to all supporters of this gruelling campaign, especially the media organisations that joined forces for this initiative.

Press Release of:

aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, Solidarity with Migrants group, SOS Malta, Spark15.


Joint letter to the Prime Minister regarding the on-going detention of 9 men

Hon. Prime Minister,

We the undersigned NGOs, all of whom are actively involved in the field of migration, are writing this open letter to express our grave concern about the situation of the nine Malian nationals who are currently in detention supposedly awaiting to be returned to Mali.

We firmly believe that their continued detention is unlawful, for all of the reasons outlined below, and we call upon the government to release them from detention immediately.

 All nine have been in detention since November 14, 2016, after they were apprehended with a view to deportation when they went to the Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta, as they were required to do.

According to information provided by government spokespersons, all nine were positively identified as Malian nationals, albeit only verbally, by the delegation from Mali that visited Malta on the 6th and 7th December to conduct interviews for the purpose of identification.

In spite of this, to date, over 2 months after their visit, the Malian authorities have not yet issued the documents required for repatriation to take place. It is therefore clearly impossible for the Maltese authorities to affect the removal of these individuals, at least in the near future.

EU and national law clearly state that a government’s power to detain migrants for the purposes of removal is not absolute. Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, where it is strictly necessary and where it is not possible to use other less coercive measure to effect return, particularly because of a risk of absconding or lack of cooperation on the part of the individual concerned.

Further, the law clearly states that detention should be for the shortest time possible and, where removal cannot take place due to legal or other considerations, the individual concerned should be immediately released. These legal requirements are also clearly included in the right to liberty protect in Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In our view these legal provisions raise serious questions about the lawfulness of the ongoing detention of these nine men, especially in the light of the conditions in which they are detained.

We also wish to underline that these nine individuals have always abided by the law: they were honest about their nationality from the day they were apprehended by the Immigration Police, they did not apply for asylum elsewhere, and they reported regularly to the immigration authorities as they were required to do in order to extend their stay. In the circumstances, we believe that it is indeed difficult to argue that it is not possible to use less coercive measures in order to affect their removal.

Ultimately, the above-mentioned legal provisions clearly require government to demonstrate that individual assessments have been undertaken in order to reach the conclusion that detention is, in fact and in law, both necessary and proportionate. It is not clear whether such individual assessments have been carried out in this present context, raising further questions as to its compliance with human rights, EU and national law.

Together with the legality or otherwise of this continued detention, we believe that it is an affront to human dignity to treat in this way law-abiding persons who have lived in our midst for several years and contributed to our society. They have done nothing to deserve to be treated like criminals, deprived of their liberty in difficult conditions and carted around in handcuffs, portraying them as posing a great danger to our society.

While we acknowledge that the State has the right to affect the removal of those who have no legal permission to stay, we strongly underline this must be done in a way that respects the fundamental dignity of each individual.

Achieving what is possibly a legitimate end in any other way undermines not only the humanity of the individuals directly impacted, but also our own.

We therefore reiterate our request for the immediate release of the nine Malians currently held in detention.

Letter sent by the following NGOs:

aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, Spark15.

Background Note

On 14 November 2016 and the days following, some 33 Malian migrants were apprehended by the immigration authorities as they went to the Central Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta.

All were adult men who had arrived in Malta by boat from Libya between 2007 and 2015. All had been issued with a Removal Order within days of their arrival and had subsequently applied for asylum. All had their asylum applications rejected. All spent some time in detention following their arrival in Malta – the duration of their detention varies but most spent between 12 or 18 months in detention.

Following their release from detention all enjoyed tolerated stay – this means that, although they were still subject to a removal order and therefore still considered ‘prohibited’ immigrants in term of the Immigration Act, the immigration authorities granted them temporary permission to stay until removal could be effected in terms of law.

All of them worked, most of them regularly. Those who worked regularly paid tax and national insurance contributions.

On the 6 and 7 December 2016 a delegation from Mali visited the detainees for the purposes of identification, with a view to issuing the documentation required for repatriation. In the days that followed the visit it emerged that only 10 of the individuals in detention were positively identified as Malian nationals by the delegation, and this only verbally.

One of these 10 was released from detention on 23 December, following a decision of the Court of Magistrates (dated 22 December) declaring his detention unlawful.

The 15 migrants about whose identity doubts were expressed were also released from detention on 23 December.

There are currently 9 men left in detention, supposedly pending deportation. In the week before Christmas, they instituted legal proceedings before the Constitutional Court challenging, among other things, the lawfulness of their detention. Their lawyer also asked to court to release them from detention pending the outcome of the proceedings, however this was refused on 4 January 2017.

The case is currently on-going.



Worlds apart on a tiny island – our Director’s Talking Point on The Times

Available here: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161102/opinion/worlds-apart-on-a-tiny-island.629741


Some weeks ago, Mina Tolu, a young Maltese trans activist, corrected actress-activist Emma Watson when the latter referred to the former as “she” instead of the preferred “they”. Also some weeks ago, Fathi Elhadi Eldeeb was treated for serious injuries following what he described as a beating by six bouncers that left him unconscious.

The distance between these two personal experiences is staggeringly vast, and should be yet another eye-opener on Malta’s understanding and exploitation of human rights.

Enter Mina, whose affirmation of their non-binary gender identity is representative of the giant leaps forward made in Malta in finally recognising the equal human dignity of lesbian, gay, trans and intersex persons.

Understandably confusing to many, pronoun choice is of course not a mere linguistic flair but a direct rejection of the very idea that all in nature is either male or female. In challenging such a deeply entrenched understanding of the world, it almost pokes fun at the national panic we witnessed at the crumbling of other, possibly far more constructed notions, such as marriage and the family.

The point is that in just a couple of years, Malta has come an extremely long way. Non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is protected by our Constitution, and hate crime legislation includes the same grounds in its protection.

Civil unions extend to couples – whether heterosexual or homosexual – the full package of rights and obligations found in marriage, and changing one’s gender no longer requires forced sterilisation but may be effected with a mere notarial declaration.

Across the government, ministries are adopting technical policies that seek to ensure the implementation of these legal norms within their areas of responsibility such as schools, the health sector and prisons.

Pronoun choice is of course not a mere linguistic flair but a direct rejection of the very idea that all in nature is either male or female. Just earlier this week, Parliament started discussing Bills to depathologise LGBTIQ+ identities, thereby taking a proud stand against international criteria, and to criminalise conversion practices. Exit Mina.

Enter Fathi, whose story is the most distant point on the human rights spectrum to Mina’s. His is essentially an experience of isolation. Or rather, he suffers from the intentional and strategic social exclusion perpetuated on a daily basis at far too many political and social levels in Malta.

The point is that years have passed since Malta saw the first refugees arriving by boat, and there is still no political or national effort to truly engage with them.

Malta’s detention reform, coming after years of advocacy, international criticism and judicial condemnations, remains ineffective in practice. Although the reform removed the automatic detention of migrants and asylum seekers in an irregular situation, detention remains the first and only option for the police.

Despite the reform introducing extremely strict grounds for detaining asylum seekers, in line with Malta’s European Union obligations, they are being detained even where no grounds exist and when their detention proves to be unnecessary.

Refugees fleeing war and human rights violations – Iranians, Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians – are prosecuted and imprisoned because their only way of reaching safety is by using false passports.

It is worth remembering that these prosecutions and prison sentences are in flagrant breach of Malta’s international legal obligations.

Refugee integration is almost a national taboo. Apart from a vague document published by the Civil Liberties Ministry in 2015, Malta stubbornly refuses to talk about – let alone act on – pressing integration issues.

Public entities that deal with migrants and refugees remain desperately understaffed and under-resourced, some displaying attitudes that include dismissal, scorn or outright racism.

The country’s approach to refugees remains captured by the desolate units at Ħal Far, miserable homes to those refugees who were lucky or brave enough to flee their homes. Exit Fathi.

It is clear that no side of Parliament is keen on showing any form of political leadership in the area of migration, excluding of course that aspect of migration that results in the purchase of Maltese citizenship.

The kind of leadership displayed in relation to the LGBTIQ+ community is brave and transformative, insofar as it is adamant on bringing about cultural changes in support of fundamental human rights.

Yet it is also an opportunistic and selective leadership that is just as adamant on ignoring Fathi and all the other inconvenient minority groups in Malta.