7 February 2014

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), in its role of provider of free legal assistance to applicants in the Dublin procedure, has published this week a report on Malta’s asylum and reception systems, which criticises the practice of systematically detaining asylum seekers, the conditions in detention as well as in the open reception centres and the treatment of vulnerable persons.

“The conditions described in Malta’s Country Report raise serious questions about the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which provides that Denmark and other EU Member States can send asylum seekers back to the country where they first set foot on the ground”, said Eva Singer, Head of the Asylum Unit of DRC. “We are hopeful that Denmark’s Refugee Appeals Board will take the overwhelming background information into consideration when deciding on individual cases regarding returns of asylum seekers to Malta under the Dublin Regulation”, Singer added.

DRC’s report makes reference to several court decisions in Germany, Italy and Belgium as well as practice in Finland, according to which Dublin transfers to Malta of vulnerable asylum seekers – in particular unaccompanied children, single parents and victims of human trafficking – were suspended, due to sub-standard reception and detention conditions.

Furthermore, asylum seekers who left Malta before their personal asylum interview and are returned under the Dublin system face repercussions upon return. As the authorities consider that their asylum applications have been ‘withdrawn’, the individuals need to be granted permission to submit a new (i.e. subsequent) application in order to have their claim assessed on its merits. Without such permission, the asylum seekers are at risk of being removed to their respective countries of origin where they might face persecution. According to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), many persons eligible for refugee status have to spend months in detention to have their case reopened.

In September 2013 UNHCR criticised Malta for its “arbitrary and unlawful” detention practice, according to which all asylum seekers, who arrive on Malta’s territory in an irregular manner, are subjected to detention, rendering it the main form of reception. Asylum seekers are detained for prolonged periods, without access to speedy and adequate remedies to effectively challenge their detention order. Only after 12 months are asylum seekers moved to so-called “open centres” – reception centres. UNHCR reported that many vulnerable persons, such as unaccompanied children, are detained, as release from detention is not automatic; a recommendation by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) is needed in this regard, which can take up to several months.

According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) incidents of racially motivated assaults, threat or serious harassment, with half of the incidents being reported to the police – due to a lack of confidence in the system – remain a serious problem.

In addition to the report on Malta, DRC has also published reports on the conditions for asylum seekers in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, and Hungary. In the past, DRC has requested the European Court of Human Rights for interim measures – stopping deportations – in cases involving returns to Italy, Malta, Hungary and Cyprus.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 07 February 2014
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