The David and Goliath Struggle – Legal Unit, pt 3

by Marine Giorgis, Case Officer, Legal Unit, aditus foundation

An excerpt of Marine’s input to aditus foundation’s Annual Activity Report for 2021. The full Annual Report 2021 may be downloaded here (.pdf). In the coming weeks we’ll be publishing the other team member inputs to the Annual Report.

According to article 1 of the UDHR: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. After a year spent at aditus, I can affirm that this is the guideline of the work carried out on a daily basis by the staff members of the NGO. They carry out a Herculean task in a struggle that resembled the one between David and Goliath. A fight for justice and rule of law that is continuing for me since I was hired as a Case Officer by aditus at the end of my internship!

Driven by the feeling of being in the right place at the right time, I embarked on the aditus’ adventure with the urge to help and the desire to learn. I had no idea of the challenges ahead of me. I will learn, from my first days, that Malta is a “hot spot” at the heart of the European migration crisis. I was taken aback to see that in 2021, in Europe, gross and systematic violations of human rights can take place with almost complete impunity; political interests taking precedence over the interests of justice and humanity.

Over the past year, my work has mainly consisted of supporting first the Pro Bono Unit as a legal intern, and then the Legal Unit as a member of the team, in the provision of legal services to clients, in the area of asylum and migration. This involved providing individualized support to clients (e.g., basic information regarding the asylum procedure); administrative support to the aditus team (e.g., registration of clients in the database in view of reporting our activities to the funders); conducting research on relevant laws and policies (e.g., recommendations made at EU level with regards to Rule of Law in Malta) and gathering country of origin information (e.g., access to health care in Nigeria in support of a request for Temporary Humanitarian Protection based on the medical condition of the client).

I particularly would like to emphasize my work related to detention. Indeed, since 2018 Malta has reintroduced a systematic detention regime for migrants arriving in the country by boat. As a result, minors and vulnerable people are detained upon arrival in violation of the European Union law. In addition, my internship took place during the covid-19 pandemic. Throughout this period, access to detention was severely restricted. I soon realized that the reception system in Malta had collapsed, with asylum seekers detained without legal basis, no information, no access to a lawyer or legal remedy.

In this context, I gave particular importance to the organisation of visits to detention, although access to detention was being granted only on request to see a particular individual. This was a practical impossibility for new arrivals and for those who had not contacted us themselves, given that we would not be aware of who was in detention. Migrants were rarely given the possibility of making a phone call to the outside world, and since we had the possibility to call in then we began to regularly call in to gather information. Therefore, my job consisted in collecting as much information as possible on the identity of the detainees and their legal situation.

Nevertheless, this system presented its challenges as in order to contact a particular client it was necessary to know which block the client is detained, the police number, name and surname. As well, it is necessary to speak the same language and above all the telephone must be working! Once the information has been collected, it is essential to prioritize which detainees need to be seen with urgency. Furthermore, we are only authorized to go to detention one morning a week, which allows us to see only 6 to 10 people a week. It is completely impossible to meet everyone.

During this year I realized that human creativity has no limits. First, the creativity of clients who arrive with ever more complex situations, constantly pushing us to challenge ourselves. Their courage, their resilience and their thirst for life are all sources of inspiration, humility and encourage us to surpass ourselves. Second, the creativity of the authorities who, by all possible and unimaginable means, make the asylum procedure as complex and as bureaucratic as possible.

I am fortunate to be able to draw up an extremely positive review of this year spent at aditus. Thanks to the stimulating and friendly environment in which I have been working, this experience was rewarding both academically, professionally, and personally. It has not always been easy. Going to detention, witnessing the inhuman and degrading conditions in which hundreds of people are detained is tough. Fortunately, the aditus team is very attentive to the emotional toll that this work can have. One thing is certain, the members of aditus do not lack and will not lack work in the coming years. They will continue to carry out various activities with great determination to enable everyone in Malta to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms.