Working in a Challenging Environment – Legal Unit, pt 1

by Alexis Galand, Senior Legal Officer, Legal Unit, aditus foundation

An excerpt of Alexis’ 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.

I started working with the aditus foundation in May 2021 as their new Legal Officer. In this position, I was responsible for the organisation of the newly formed legal unit of the NGO, composed of a Junior Legal Officer, a Case Officer and one or more interns, and my role also involved in-depth legal work which required more advanced knowledge of European and Asylum law. This included written and oral submissions for appeals before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) after a rejection on the asylum application and detention and age assessments appeals before the Immigration Appeals Board (IAB). This proved particularly challenging due to a certain lack of expertise, or willingness, of several members of these quasi-judicial bodies appointed by the executive, with limited safeguards guaranteeing their independence and impartiality.

In that regard I must say that the challenges we faced were not only linked to the Government’s hostile policy towards migrants and asylum seekers but also the erosion of the rule of law in Malta, which made our work tremendously more difficult than it would be in other European countries. In one specific case this situation forced us to seek redress to the European Court of Human Rights in order to stop a removal which would have put one of our clients at risk of harm upon return.

My job also entailed regular visits to the Safi detention centre, where we met numerous individuals who had been detained for 2 years in squalid conditions with no access to legal aid or information about their situation. It was not rare to find children among those detainees, be they confirmed as children by the authorities or pending an age assessment procedure. We focused our efforts on challenging their detention and obtained some releases. It proved more difficult to challenge the detention of those individuals who were being detained on removal orders for 15 months or more, the Immigration Police and the Immigration Appeals Board having a rather restrictive approach to the rights of these people.

This year obviously came with a lot of frustrations and sadness but it was worthwhile for those tiny little moments of happiness for each and every one of the 42 individuals for whom we secured a release from detention and all the others we accompanied through their asylum procedure. I am truly amazed by the resilience of these individuals and want to thank them for their trust. Despite all the adversity they face here, they all trusted us with their life and I cannot imagine what it must feel like for them.

I am proud of what our team has achieved with our limited resources and do hope that our work paved the way towards some meaningful changes.

Our work in Numbers:

During 2021, the Legal Unit visited a total of 58 people in detention (47 asylum seekers and 11 rejected asylum seekers) and has monitored the situation of 343 detainees, including 58 minors. As of December 2021, 172 of these individuals were still detained. The detainees followed are from 17 different countries, Bangladesh, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Egypt being the most represented countries. 

Detention of asylum seekers

During the reporting period, the Unit successfully secured the release of 37 asylum seekers being unlawfully detained:  

 Asylum Seekers Released by aditus in 2021
Habeas Corpus9
Appeal Immigration Appeals Board  3
Request to Principal Immigration Officer25
Grand Total37

Detention of rejected asylum seekers

Challenging the detention of rejected asylum seekers under a removal order has proven to be difficult. During the reporting period, the Legal Unit secured the release of 5 of its clients, 3 of them after a request to the PIO, 1 following a request for a review of the detention and 1 after a successful request for Interim Measure in front of the ECHR:  

Rejected Asylum Seekers Released by aditus in 2021
Appeal Immigration Appeals Board 1
Interim Measure1
Request to Principal Immigration Officer3
Grand Total5

In Depth Work on International Protection

The Legal Unit supports a wide number of asylum seekers, providing legal advice and ensuring they have access to the accommodation and the financial support they are entitled to.

During the reporting period, the Unit’s lawyers provided in depth preparation to 7 people for their asylum interview, including two LGBT individuals, one a Victim of Torture and two prisoners in Paola CCF.

The Unit filed 5 appeals for 7 individuals (including 2 children and 2 LGBT individuals) in front of the International Protection Appeals Board and participated in two hearings. One of these cases was also supported by an intervention from the UNHCR after a request from aditus’ lawyers. As of December 2021, the Legal Unit is following a dozen appeals in front of the IPAT. It remains difficult to assess the number of cases still pending as some were filed more than 3 years ago.

The Legal Unit filed 4 requests to Temporary Humanitarian Protection for rejected asylum seekers and also filed submissions in support of 3 individuals who are threatened to see their protection withdrawn.

Additionally, the Unit filed 6 Subsequent Applications for 9 individuals (including 3 children and 2 LGBT individuals), one of them being admissible and 3 of them still pending.

Finally, the Unit is currently following 16 minors for their age assessment appeal in front of the IAB. 

In total, the Legal Unit carried out in depth legal work for 46 individuals, including 21 children (or alleged children), 6 LGBT individuals, 4 people suffering from a serious health condition and one Victim of Torture.