We’re training integration educators…

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, Neil (our Director) delivered legal training to integration educators, engaged by the University of Malta to deliver cultural orientation classes to migrants and refugees.

Following Government’s adoption of Integration=Belonging: Migrant Integration Strategy and Action Plan, the Integration Unit within the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality has been making steady progress towards implementation of the country’s integration agenda.

In particular, free classes in English and Maltese have already started, as part of Stage 1 of a migrant’s integration path. Stage 1 also includes basic cultural and societal orientation, and a record+assessment of qualifications, trade and work experiences.

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Maltese NGOs at the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review’s Pre-Session

On 12 October aditus foundation, Kunsill Nazzjonali ŻgħażagħThe Malta Independent on Sunday editor David Lindsay attended the UPR pre-session on Malta to give their feedback and recommendations on the state of human rights in Malta as they stand.

The UPR pre-sessions are attended by States’ missions to the United Nations, based in Geneva, with a view to gathering information in preparation for the upcoming review of a State’s human rights performance. Malta’s review is set for 14 November 2018…we’ll be following closely!

(Don’t know what the UPR is, or why we think it’s an important human rights process? Read our earlier blog post.)

So, who said what at this pre-session?

aditus foundation

Neil was present as Director of aditus foundation but also as Head of Secretariat of the umbrella organisation Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM).

He started his presentation by highlighting the significant progress made by Malta in several areas since the last UPR, such as the adoption of the Integration Policy (2017) as well as amendments made to the immigration detention policy.

Statelessness was an issue discussed in depth by aditus foundation, also in the shadow report presented to the UPR process. In this regard, Neil reiterated concerns expressed in the Statelessness Index, namely:

Neil further noted the challenges faced by refugees and migrants in accessing Europe safely and legally, emphasizing that safe and legal pathways need to be introduced. He also stressed the need for Malta and Italy to stop bickering on Twitter and to find a way of resolving their legal and political disagreements regarding rescue at sea of migrants.

aditus foundation pleaded that Ħal Far Tent Village urgently needs to be replaced with housing that is community-based and equipped with basic material supplies. In relation to immigration detention, Neil noted that some instances of deprivation of liberty need to be aligned with international human rights standards.

Finally, on the migration theme, Neil urged Malta to remove the arbitrary prohibition of civil marriages for undocumented migrants.

Neil then spoke on the rule of law, mentioning examples of institutionalised nepotism, kickbacks and other forms of corruption. Neil finally stressed the importance of establishing a public inquiry looking into the brutal assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

PEN Representative David Lindsay

David Lindsay, Editor of The Malta Independent on Sunday, spoke on behalf of Pen International, Reporters without Borders, IPI (International Press Institute), The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and Article 19.

He stated that during the last UPR session, no recommendations were made on freedom of speech, yet Malta’s situation degenerated enormously. He underlined how Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal assassination on 16 October 2017 has left trailing behind it a climate of fear.

David reminded his listeners that a makeshift memorial set up in her memory has been cleared over 20 times by government officials in the thick of the night.

David reiterated Neil’s recommendation by calling for an international public inquiry that would establish whether her death could or should have been prevented.

David said that PEN welcomed the decriminalisation of defamation under the new Media and Defamation Act adopted in 2018, yet also mentioned serious concerns in relation to this new law, particularly that the burden of proof remains with the defendant, including in cases initiated by senior members of the government.

In addition, libel suits may be passed to heirs. To highlight this, David mentioned how Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family inherited a total of 33 civil libel suits, all instituted by senior public officials against Daphne herself.

Lindsay lamented that 2017 was the year Malta was introduced to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), as a way to censor and silence journalists and media houses by slapping them with exasperatingly high-cost legal fees. David expressed the fear that these methods are aimed at preventing the media from practicing its right to inform the public about matters of general interest.

David urged the UPR to recommend the prohibition of recognition of foreign defamation judgments, in order to protect Maltese journalists from SLAPP and libel tourism.

He concluded by stressing the importance of having a public inquiry looking into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

Kunsill Nazzjonali Żgħażagħ

The General Secretary of Kunsill Nazzjonali Żgħażagħ, Sean Ellul, tabled the KZN’s UPR recommendations, focusing mainly on sexual and mental health issues. Sean noted that, although Malta does offer free STD and STI  testing, it is quite hard to access these due to a long waiting list of up to several months.

This means that a good part of the population remains untested: over 25% of individuals suffering from HIV are unaware they are HIV positive.

KNZ recommends that a standardised, holistic national policy on sex education is established, that incorporates both formal and non-formal education. Further investment in quality sexual health clinics and services is also needed. Self-testing and the distribution/educational use of contraceptives among youths need to be made easier and simpler.

With regard to mental health, Sean highlighted the situation in Mount Carmel Hospital by referring specifically to the young man who was discovered dead after he had fled the hospital. Sean underlined the need to overhaul this institution, also referring to the need for further public education and awareness-raising.

KNZ commented on the Maltese legal and judicial system, where a survey carried out just after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination showed that 53% of Maltese citizens lacked trust in the system. In line with aditus’ own earlier recommendation, KNZ recommended the establishment of an independent National Human Rights Institution in conformity with the Paris Principles.

This post is part of a series of posts on the Universal Period Review process. Malta’s review, where the country’s human rights situation will be assessed by other States, is set for 14 November 2018.

Follow our News and Updates to be kept updated on this important United Nations procedure. 

Project Refugee Assistance Malta

From 1 January 2018 through to July 2020, aditus foundation and JRS Malta will be implementing a project geared to assist refugees as they attempt to integrate in Malta: Project Refugee Assistance Malta. The main aim of the project is to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers are able to live a dignified life in Malta, where their immediate needs are promptly identified and met and where they enjoy access to their rights and opportunities.

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What the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner told Malta about migrants/refugees.

In a letter addressed to the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security of Malta, Mr. Michael Farrugia, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, urged Malta to improve the protection and integration of migrants, while appreciating Malta’s policy changes to end the automatic detention of migrants, its participation in the EU refugee relocation programme and the recently-adopted migrant integration strategy.

The Commissioner highlighted the need to lift obstacles to migrant integration, such as lack of housing, the distinction between refugees and beneficiaries of other forms of international protection, migrants’ access to legal employment, access to family reunification, access of long-term residents to citizenship.

Furthermore, the Commissioner called for the introduction of judicial review of Refugee Appeals Board decisions.

In particular, the Commissioner expressed concerns that the decisions of the Refugee Appeals Board they suffer from shortcomings due to a lack of comprehensive reasoning.

Mr. Muižnieks welcomed the improvements in Ħal Far reception centre but emphasized that reception centres should only be transitional accommodation solutions, since migrants and beneficiaries of international protection ought to have access to adequate housing. The lack of adequate housing creates an obstacle to integration, and it may create tensions between migrants and the local population.

In order to overcome obstacles and guarantee adequate housing, Malta should give full effect to Article 31 of the European Social Charter (ESC) concerning right to housing, and Article 16 of the ESC concerning the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. Besides giving full effect to these articles, Malta should accept Article 19 of the ESC concerning the right of migrant workers and their families to protection and assistance.

The Commissioner noted Malta’s distinctions between refugees and beneficiaries of other forms of the international protection  in aspects of entitlement to social security benefits and family reunification. By giving full effect to Article 13(4) of the ESC, Malta would guarantee that all foreign nationals are entitled to emergency medical and social assistance.

As family reunification is one of the most crucial factors in integration, Malta should ensure quick and effective access to family reunification for all, also for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, in conformity with the right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Currently, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are not entitled to family reunification under Maltese law, which creates an unfair distinction and disadvantages persons with subsidiary protection.

According to the Commissioner’s letter, other obstacles for migrant integration include difficulties accessing the legal employment market and access of long-term residents to citizenship. Bureaucratic obstacles to migrants’ access to the labour market should be removed in order ensure integration, which can also be seen as an opportunity for the national economy.

Furthermore, Malta should accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, as well as to ratify the 1997 European Convention on Nationality.

In his reply, the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security said that Malta is in the process of revising its migration and asylum systems. The Minister highlighted the improvements already made to reception centres, and the continuing work on them. The process of revising migration and asylum systems will include efforts to maintain family unity, and will look at ways of improving the current appeals system.

Since the Commissioner raised concerns regarding the lengthy and unfair family reunification process, the Minister noted that Malta’s current regime is compliant with the provisions of EU Directive 2003/86/EC, which provides for family reunification for refugees, and Directive 2011/95/EU (Qualification Directive) which provides for family unity, and that efforts are being made to maintain family unity in the contexts of resettlement and relocation programmes, as well as during Search and Rescue operations.

Furthermore, the Minister emphasized that the process of revising migrant and asylum systems will include improving the current appeals system so that Malta’s system would be in line with international standards.  Moreover, in relation to the Commissioner’s concern regarding the lack of asylum-related training and capacity of the Refugee Appeals Board Members, the Minister referred to planned training with the European Asylum and Support Office (EASO).

We welcome Commissioner Muižnieks’ letter to the Maltese authorities, particulalry since it reflects concerns we have often expressed in relation to the situation of migrants and refugees in Malta.

We’re of course keen to follow the progress referred to by the Minister in his response, particularly the work aimed at improving the quality of Refugee Appeals Board procedures and decisions.

This article was prepared by Emma Pahkala, Office Intern.