Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Libyan crisis resulted in a surge of migrant arrivals (more than 1,500) during the first three months of the year; the flow of migrants subsided in the spring and summer.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: As an EU member state and a member of the Schengen Zone, the country followed laws and policies established in those bodies related to safe country of origin and transit. Malta denied asylum to applicants who arrived from a country deemed a safe country of origin. In practice, asylum applicants rarely were repatriated, although they were always offered the option of voluntary return to their country of origin. Migrants not qualifying for refugee status, but coming from countries considered unsafe to return due to war or other conditions, were granted subsidiary protected status, permitting them to stay in the country on a year-to-year, renewable basis
Nonrefoulement: In practice the government consistently provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In addition, migrants not qualifying for refugee status, but coming from countries considered unsafe to return due to war or other conditions, were granted subsidiary protected status, permitting them to stay in the country on a year-to-year, renewable basis. In practical terms, this meant that irregular migrants were not returned to North African countries during periods of conflict there. A Maltese court awarded $13,900 to each of two Somali migrants after finding that their human rights were violated when they were returned to Libya in 2004. Following their involuntary repatriation, they both eventually returned to Malta, where they filed the complaint.
Refugee Abuse: Authorities detained some irregular migrants, generally in closed detention centers, for up to 18 months after they arrived in the country, in instances where both their application for asylum and appeal were rejected. A new temporary humanitarian protection scheme was introduced to provide for such cases. There were 723 persons in closed centers as of October. The length of the adjudication procedure experienced by any individual asylum seeker was reportedly related to the need to establish the migrant’s identity, country of origin, and other vital information, since migrants nearly always arrived without identity documents. Such migrants could file asylum claims within two months of detention; however, they remained in detention while their cases were processed.
According to the UNHCR, migrants spent an average of six months in detention in 2009. Due to a decrease in arrivals, the average detention time dropped to two months during 2010. Detainees also included persons who had not applied for asylum and those whose asylum applications and appeals were rejected or were under review. Individuals awaiting decisions on their cases occasionally protested their detention or attempted to escape from detention centers. Within a matter of days (usually less than two weeks) after their initial detention, authorities usually moved “vulnerable individuals,” such as children, pregnant women, elderly persons, and parents with infants, to “open centers,” where they were free to come and go. Migrant children are eligible for all government social services and are assigned a caseworker to ensure that their needs are met. The armed forces are responsible for the management of the closed detention centers and report directly to the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, while the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS), part of the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, has responsibility for the welfare and accommodation of persons transferred from detention centers to open centers. Individuals were not required to stay in open centers if they could find other accommodations. However, authorities monitored individuals to whom they provided a subsidiary protection stipend.
Authorities released all detainees whose cases were not resolved within 18 months, whether or not police had arranged to repatriate them. Authorities permitted them to remain in the country in “open centers” or in the community at large and issued them work permits. EU law prohibited them from travelling to other EU countries, and they were not eligible to bring family members to the EU. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but only a few chose to participate. There were no significant changes to this general pattern. As of year’s end, there were approximately 2,541 migrants living in three open centers.
Overcrowding persisted at the country’s largest migrant open-housing center in Marsa. Friable asbestos was present in one of the common areas. In other centers, high temperatures in the summer months and inadequate ventilation in tent housing and prefabricated housing units contributed to uncomfortable living conditions. In winter months tent housing had limited heating, and rain could penetrate the fabric that was not waterproof. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were entitled to remain in the country; move freely; receive personal identification documents, including one-year renewable residence permits; and obtain travel documents in emergencies. They could be employed; receive core social welfare benefits; seek appropriate accommodations; and benefit from integration programs, public education and training, and essential medical care. Their dependents enjoyed the same rights and benefits. However, this status does not provide for family reunification, a path to citizenship, or other benefits of refugee status. Most persons granted subsidiary protected status or other humanitarian protected status were from Somalia--3,743 overall.
Temporary Protection: From January through December, the government provided “temporary humanitarian protection” to 318 individuals not legally entitled to asylum or subsidiary protection. The government also provided “temporary humanitarian protection” as an administrative procedure in special and extraordinary cases in which applicants were found not to be eligible for asylum or subsidiary protection but were considered to be in need of protection for special humanitarian reasons. During the year 129 persons received this protection.