Irregular migration has been quite a problem for Malta for a number of years now. Our geographical position makes us mostly vulnerable during illegal crossings to southern Europe from North African shores, mainly Libya. Thousands of irregular migrants have found themselves here, intentionally or not. The burden is far beyond our resources which have been really outstretched.
Quite rightly Malta pretends at least a helping hand from European countries, first and foremost fellow members of the European Union. It is not just a question of money, essential as money might be. What Malta really needs is the relocation of migrants arriving to our shores. On record this has been promised by the EU on more than one occasion, but such promises have been so craftily worded that it often results that they are hollow promises. Statistics regarding migrant relocation speak for themselves.
Meanwhile our detention system has been highly criticised. Undesired incidents at the detention centres, highlighted by at least two violent deaths of two immigrants, fuelled the uproars. The blanket detention system has been for the kill for quite a long time too.
During the last few days Malta was dealt two heavy blows by Human Rights Watch and by the UK Minister for Europe David Lidington.
Human Rights Watch 50-page report “Boat Ride to Detention: Adult and Child Migrants in Malta” is more than food for thought. The report urges the Maltese Government to:
• Limit detention of migrants to exceptional circumstances, with individualised determinations and access to procedures to challenge detention.
• Treat those who claim to be children as such pending the outcome of age determination proceedings, and not detain them while their ages are assessed.
• Bring detention policies in line with standards articulated by the Council of Europe and provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights, namely by executing fully, effectively, and immediately the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Louled Massoud vs Malta, which found Malta’s detention of migrants arbitrary and in violation of the European Convention.
To be fair, the Human Rights Watch did not just deliver such a blow. It also renewed its call on the EU to reform the Dublin II Regulation to permit more equitable burden-sharing among member states.
The renewed call was given an immediate cold shower by UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington. The UK is highly critical of burden sharing because they believe that if they were obliged to take quotas of asylum seekers from Malta this will act as a pull factor for traffickers to ship more people into Europe. So much so that UK rules out the possibility of relocating migrants from Malta to the UK, while promising help through the EU’s border agency (Frontex) and technical advice.
So what is the writing on the wall with regards to illegal migration and Malta? Implementing the quoted Human Rights Watch recommendations, which might seem justified, coupled with the UK Minister’s line of reasoning, would mean ‘a pull factor for traffickers to ship more people into Europe, or rather more accurately Malta’. The UK decision plus the minimal relocation of irregular migrants from Malta to other EU countries are quite a dent on the principle of solidarity so manifestly professed by the EU.