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. Through November, 1,890 migrants arrived in the country by sea compared with 1,574 arrivals between January and December 2011.
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. The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from a country deemed a safe country of origin. The government rarely repatriated asylum applicants, although they always had the option of voluntary return to their country of origin.
Refoulement: 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. This effectively meant that irregular migrants were not returned to North African countries during periods of conflict. Authorities did not return any migrants to countries in conflict during the year.
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. Since 2011 the country normally granted temporary humanitarian protection in such cases. There were 1,156 persons in closed centers as of August. The length of the adjudication procedure for 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.
In a July 18 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) asserted that the government’s detention policy operated “in an automated, indiscriminate, and blanket manner in violation of international law.” The HRW noted the government routinely detained unaccompanied migrant minors whose ages were in question as well as the “most vulnerable migrants” – such as families with children, elderly persons, and persons with mental or physical disabilities – although the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) reported the average detention period for minors undergoing age assessment was 18 days. The average detention period reported for vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women or single women with children, was three days.
According to the UNHCR, migrants spent an average of six months in detention in 2009. Due to a decrease in arrivals, the average detention period dropped to two months during 2010. Despite increased arrivals during the year, the Refugee Commission maintained the lower processing time with few exceptions.
Detainees also included persons who had not applied for asylum or those whose asylum applications and appeals were rejected or were under review. The government provided asylum applicants with free legal aid, with the same provisions as those for citizens, at the appeal stage of the application process if their application was rejected. Any legal aid outside the appeal stage was provided by NGOs or by the migrants themselves. 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, “vulnerable individuals,” such as children, pregnant women, elderly persons, and parents with infants, were usually moved to “open centers,” where they were free to come and go. Migrant children were eligible for all government social services and were assigned a caseworker to ensure that their needs were met.
The Detention Service, made up of seconded armed forces personnel and civilians, was responsible for the management of the closed detention centers and reported directly to the Ministry of Home Affairs. AWAS, part of the Ministry of 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 September there were approximately 1,870 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 prefabricated housing units contributed to uncomfortable living conditions.
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 did not provide for family reunification, a path to citizenship, or other benefits of refugee status. Most of the 3,998 persons granted subsidiary protection status or other humanitarian protected status were from Somalia.
In July authorities charged two members of the armed forces with the murder of a migrant while he was in custody of the Detention Services and accused a third of tampering with the evidence related to the case. The case was pending before the courts at year’s end. A Detention Services Officer reportedly was suspended after making derogatory remarks against migrants in detention while giving evidence in court in the case against the accused.
Temporary Protection: The country provides “subsidiary protection” to individuals who do not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who cannot return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. In accordance with EU guidelines, individuals granted subsidiary protection are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care and housing. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 288 persons.
From January through July, the government provided “temporary humanitarian protection” to 14 individuals, as part of an administrative procedure for special and extraordinary cases in which the government deemed applicants ineligible for asylum or subsidiary protection.