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.



Criminalisation of undocumented migrants, and the Victims of Crime Directive – PICUM

In June Erika, our Human Rights Officer, participated in the workshop ‘Ending the criminalisation of undocumented migrants’ organised by the Platform for International Cooperation of Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), an independent human rights platform dedicated to the advancement of protection of rights of undocumented migrants worldwide.

The theme was selected due to the tendency to view undocumented migrants as criminals, as seen in the terms and discourse used and also the 2015 EU proposal of ‘bombing boats’. The workshop included two plenary sessions, during which Erika gave examples of criminalisation of migrants in Malta using our photo ‘Red carpet to detention!’.

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These sessions were followed by thematic working groups. In view of our own priorities, Erika attended the ‘Borders and Detention’ group where she discussed key issues with NGO representatives from Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The second day was dedicated to PICUM’s Annual General Assembly. The agenda and financial management documents were presented along with the list of new PICUM Members and its new Membership Structure. Following the Assembly, Members were given the opportunity to exchange information and ideas in relation to their work and two short working groups were held on the transposition of the Victims of Crime Directive and related Member legal strategies (see here for our own work on this important Directive).

The final plenary session was dedicated to an exchange of good practices, where some Members shared successful campaigns and the process of reaching their objectives.

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PICUM brings together NGOs working with undocumented migrants. As a platform it encourages organisations to build their capacity, network and exchange good practices.

aditus foundation has been an active PICUM member since 2011.


Workshop on monitoring immigration detention

As part of our on-going efforts to increase our capacity, on 26 and 27 March Claire (Legal Officer) was in Brussels to attend a two-day workshop on monitoring immigration detention organised by the Flemish Refugee Action and the International Detention Coalition (aditus foundation is one of IDC’s Malta members).

The aim of the workshop was to strengthen civil society monitoring of immigration by sharing experiences, challenges and positive practices. The agenda was structured around the publication of ‘Monitoring Immigration Detention: A Practical Manual published last year by Association for the Prevention of Torture, UNHCR and IDC.

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Participants

The workshop was open exclusively to NGOs who have access to and regularly visit places of immigration detention to conduct monitoring. Around 30 participants. Among the NGOs attending : Estonian Human Rights Centre, France Terre d’Asile, Caritas International, JRS, Hungarian Helsinki Committee…

Summary

The workshop focused on three elements:

  • How to develop a monitoring strategy
  • How to conduct a monitoring visit
  • How to do the follow-up of a monitoring visit
Developing a monitoring strategy

A former member of the Swiss National Commission for the Prevention of Torture introduced the practical manual and shared the experiences of the Swiss NPM’s monitoring of immigration detention.

Conducting a monitoring visit

The coordinator for IDC introduced the different methodologies to prepare and conduct a visit. Participants also worked in groups focusing on three challenges when conducting a visit: how to balance monitoring with individual case work, how to effectively monitor with volunteers and how to respect confidentiality).

Four NGOs (Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Defence for Children, Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Belgian Visitors Group) also presented their own monitoring programmes and tools, in order to share and exchange very practical experiences.

Following-up on a monitoring visit

The IDC coordinator introduced the theoretical overview of an internal follow-up (debriefings in team, internal reports, analysis of data, etc.). Participants then divided into groups to work on different subjects, including how to make effective recommendations, how to coordinate with other monitoring bodies and how to analyse data collected during monitoring. Four NGOs (France Terre d’Asile, JRS Romania, Menedek, ASGI) also presented their own advocacy strategies and tools.

This workshop was a very instructive and participatory event and a great opportunity to share experiences with other NGOs. Workshop outcomes will be presented in an online briefing paper with tips and advice for NGOs conducting monitoring of immigration detention.