8 January 2016

Malta has introduced a new migration strategy which ends its practice of automatic detention of people that have entered the state irregularly. It also introduces into national law, grounds for detention, and alternatives to detention.

The reform means that migrants will be accommodated, medically screened and processed in a closed Initial Reception Centre for up to 7 days, where they will be informed of their right to apply for international protection. In addition, they will be assessed for vulnerability to enable the proper support to be given, and procedures may be done to verify their age. Following this, asylum seekers may only be detained if one of the six grounds for detention set out in EU asylum law is met (Article 8, Reception Conditions Directive). Migrants may also be detained if they have been issued a return decision. Vulnerable persons will not be detained, and will be accommodated in open centres following their release from the Initial Reception Centre.

The strategy has been welcomed by Maltese civil society, including ECRE member, aditus foundation and JRS Malta. aditus Director Neil Falzon said “it is positive to see Malta finally moving from a system of automatic detention to one based on individual assessments of each case”. 

However he also pointed out various shortcomings of the strategy. It seems that only those arriving irregularly by boat, and not those arriving by regular means who subsequently seek asylum, will be channelled through the Initial Reception Centres, possibly due to the false and discriminatory assumption that they are more likely to carry infectious diseases. This also raises issues as to the identification of vulnerable people and age assessment of those who entered regularly, who bypass these centres. The situation of migrants denied entry to Malta at the airport also remains unclear, particularly in relation to their detention and their possibility to challenge it. The strategy also confuses the concept of alternatives to detention, which should only be considered where a ground for detention is applicable, and not in all cases as the strategy indicates. 

aditus foundation and JRS Malta are now looking forward to assessing the policy’s impact on the ground.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 8 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.